The overall goal of the proposed research is to investigate the effects of executive functions training on emotion regulation. More specifically, this proposal will examine the effects of training in cognitive control, working memory, and task shifting on two fundamental emotion regulatory strategies: attention deployment and cognitive reappraisal. Neuroanatomical models suggest that brain regions implicated in executive functions - a set of abilities that enable flexible behavioral regulation - underlie the ability to employ emotion regulation strategies. Furthermore, theoretical and basic neuroscience research shows that executive functions are plastic and can be improved by training. Taken together, these findings suggest that targeted executive functions training should translate into emotion regulatory improvements. To test this hypothesis, two studies are proposed. Study 1 will examine the effects of executive functions training on executive functions, emotion regulatory improvements (Aim 1) and affective functioning (Aim 2). Participants in Study 1 will be randomly assigned either to a training group and complete 30-days of executive functions exercises, or to a control group that receives no executive functions training. Study 2 will examine the neural correlates of executive functions training (Aim 3) via the use of functional magnetic resonance imagining assessments pre- and post-training. The broad, long-term objective of this research is to integrate executive functions and emotion regulation literatures and develop a training program that will be useful for clinical populations with emotion regulatory difficulties.
Public health relevance: Very little is known about the implications of executive functions to the regulation of emotions, even though emotion regulatory difficulties are central to many psychiatric disorders. The potential benefits of executive function intervention for emotion regulation are substantial for basic science and public health. The proposed research aims to address the fundamental questions of whether and how executive functions training contributes to emotion regulatory improvements. We anticipate that the findings will have translational potential in the form of a training protocol that can be used with groups of individuals with emotion regulatory deficits - such as those with Axis I (e.g., mood and anxiety disorders) and Axis II (e.g., Borderline personality disorder) pathologies. Furthermore, we anticipate the findings to have direct relevance for NIMH's Strategic Objective 3.