Fighting food temptations: The modulating effects of short-term cognitive reappraisal, suppression and up-regulation on mesocorticolimbic activity related to appetitive motivation

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The premise of cognitive therapy is that one can overcome the irresistible temptation of highly palatable foods by actively restructuring the way one thinks about food. Testing this idea, participants in the present study were instructed to passively view foods, up-regulate food palatability thoughts, apply cognitive reappraisal (e.g., thinking about health consequences), or suppress food palatability thoughts and cravings. We examined whether these strategies affect self-reported food craving and mesocorticolimbic activity as assessed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. It was hypothesized that cognitive reappraisal would most effectively inhibit the mesocorticolimbic activity and associated food craving as compared to suppression. In addition, it was hypothesized that suppression would lead to more prefrontal cortex activity, reflecting the use of more control resources, as compared to cognitive reappraisal. Self-report results indicated that up-regulation increased food craving compared to the other two conditions, but that there was no difference in craving between the suppression and cognitive reappraisal strategy. Corroborating self-report results, the neuroimaging results showed that up-regulation increased activity in important regions of the mesocorticolimbic circuitry, including the ventral tegmental area, ventral striatum, operculum, posterior insular gyrus, medial orbitofrontal cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Contrary to our hypothesis, suppression more effectively decreased activity in the core of the mesocorticolimbic circuitry (i.e., ventral tegmental area and ventral striatum) compared to cognitive reappraisal. Overall, the results support the contention that appetitive motivation can be modulated by the application of short-term cognitive control strategies.

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