Neural correlates of 'distracting' from emotion during autobiographical recollection

Ekaterina Denkova, Sanda Dolcos, Florin Dolcos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Remembering emotional autobiographical memories (AMs) is important for emotional well-being, and investigation of the role of emotion regulation (ER) during AM recollection has relevance for understanding mental health issues. Although significant progress has been made in understanding the brain mechanisms underlying ER and AM, less is known about the role of ER during AM recollection. The present study investigated how focusing away (or 'distracting') from the emotional content during AM recollection influences the subjective re-experiencing of emotions and the associated neural correlates, by manipulating the retrieval focus of participants who remembered emotional AMs while fMRI data were recorded. First, focusing away from emotion led to decreased self-reported emotional responses, along with increased engagement of ER-related regions (ventro-medial prefrontal cortex, vmPFC), and reduced activity in emotion-related regions (amygdala, AMY). Second, increased vmPFC activity was linked to reduced emotional ratings, during the non-emotional focus. Third, mediation analysis identified vmPFC as a functional hub integrating affective signals from AMY and mediating their impact on the subjective re-experiencing of emotion, according to the current retrieval focus. Collectively, these findings shed light on the neural mechanisms underlying the ability to effectively switch attentional focus away from emotions during AM recollections and have direct relevance for understanding, preventing and treating affective disorders, characterised by reduced ability to regulate emotions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsu039
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 19 2015


  • Emotion control
  • Emotional disorders
  • Personal memories
  • Ventro-medial PFC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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