Emotional well-being depends on the ability to adaptively cope with various emotional challenges. Most studies have investigated the neural mechanisms of emotion regulation strategies deployed relatively later in the timing of processing that leads to full emotional experiences. However, less is known about strategies that are engaged in earlier stages of emotion processing, such as those involving attentional deployment. We investigated the neural mechanisms associated with self-guided Focused Attention (FA) in mitigating subjective negative emotional experiences. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were recorded while participants viewed a series of composite negative and neutral images with distinguishable foreground (FG) and background (BG) areas. Participants were instructed to focus either on the FG or BG components of the images, and then rated their emotional experiences. Behavioral results showed that FA was successful in decreasing emotional ratings for negative images viewed in BG Focus condition. At the neural level, the BG Focus was associated with increased activity in regions typically implicated in top-down executive control (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and lateral parietal cortex) and decreased activity in regions linked to affective processing (amygdala and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex). Dissociable brain activity linked to FA also was identified in visual cortices, including between the parahippocampal and fusiform gyri, showing increased versus decreased activity, respectively, during the BG Focus. These findings complement the evidence from prior FA studies with recollected emotional memories as internal stimuli and further demonstrate the effectiveness of self-guided FA in mitigating negative emotional experiences associated with processing of external unpleasant stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1011-1026
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Affect
  • Amygdala
  • Emotion control
  • Emotion-cognition interactions
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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