Neural correlates of using distancing to regulate emotional responses to social situations

Harold W. Koenigsberg, Jin Fan, Kevin N. Ochsner, Xun Liu, Kevin Guise, Scott Pizzarello, Christine Dorantes, Lucia Tecuta, Stephanie Guerreri, Marianne Goodman, Antonia New, Janine Flory, Larry J. Siever

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Cognitive reappraisal is a commonly used and highly adaptive strategy for emotion regulation that has been studied in healthy volunteers. Most studies to date have focused on forms of reappraisal that involve reinterpreting the meaning of stimuli and have intermixed social and non-social emotional stimuli. Here we examined the neural correlates of the regulation of negative emotion elicited by social situations using a less studied form of reappraisal known as distancing. Whole brain fMRI data were obtained as participants viewed aversive and neutral social scenes with instructions to either simply look at and respond naturally to the images or to downregulate their emotional responses by distancing. Three key findings were obtained accompanied with the reduced aversive response behaviorally. First, across both instruction types, aversive social images activated the amygdala. Second, across both image types, distancing activated the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), intraparietal sulci (IPS), and middle/superior temporal gyrus (M/STG). Third, when distancing one's self from aversive images, activity increased in dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC), medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), lateral prefrontal cortex, precuneus and PCC, IPS, and M/STG, meanwhile, and decreased in the amygdala. These findings demonstrate that distancing from aversive social cues modulates amygdala activity via engagement of networks implicated in social perception, perspective-taking, and attentional allocation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1813-1822
Number of pages10
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Cognitive reappraisal
  • Emotion
  • Emotion regulation
  • Emotional distancing
  • FMRI
  • Social cognitive neuroscience


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