Stress can have profound deleterious effects on mental and physical health, but two processes can intervene to mitigate stress. Experiencing positive emotions is a well-established stress regulator, protecting people from psychopathology and promoting adaptive responses to stress. Cognitive reappraisal is an established, adaptive emotion regulation strategy which involves changing one?s emotional response to stress by changing the way that people interpret the stressors. This project will continue to integrate psychological and neural models of positive emotions, stress, and emotion regulation to answer the question: ?Which neural systems support the beneficial effects of positive emotion on stress regulation?? We have updated our neurocognitive model and now propose the incidental (unrelated to the stressor) positive emotion does NOT further facilitate subsequent stress regulation, while integral (related to the stressor) positive emotion DOES facilitate stress regulation, as measured by self-reported emotion, psychophysiology, and engagement of emotional neural systems. Furthermore, we predict engagement of vmPFC and connectivity between vmPFC and other regions of prefrontal cortex will be a neural mediator of the effect of integral positive emotion on stress regulation. Our specific hypotheses build directly from our findings during the initial award period.
Specific Aim 1 is to test the hypothesis that incidental positive emotion, while having a direct effect on emotion, does not facilitate cognitive reappraisal. Powerful virtual reality will induce positive emotion, and we will test for the effects of incidental positive emotion on self-reported emotion and skin conductance level.
Specific Aim 2 is to test the hypothesis that integral positive emotion (spontaneous use of future-focused cognition) will facilitate of cognitive reappraisal, measured by self-reported and neural measures of emotion. Further, we predict that vmPFC activation and the connectivity between vmPFC and other prefrontal regions will reflect facilitated reappraisal.
Specific Aim 3 is to test the hypothesis that manipulating future-focused cognition will engage vmPFC during reappraisal planning, and result in greater changes in emotion following reappraisal implementation. Further, we hypothesize that the relationship between vmPFC during planning and reappraisal success will be mediated by connectivity between vmPFC and other prefrontal regions during reappraisal implementation. Our studies will be conducted in large part by undergraduate students, model scientific collaboration across two undergraduate-focused universities and deepen our understanding of stress and emotion regulation. The goals of this grant are to 1) significantly advance our knowledge of the neural systems that support the effects of positive emotion on stress regulation, and 2) significantly strengthen the research environment at our universities by training students in advanced affective science and neuroimaging.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed studies continue test a novel distinction in our neurocognitive model of the effect of positive emotion on stress regulation. Study 1 will replicate and extend an initial finding examining the effects of an incidental (unrelated) positive emotion induction on cognitive reappraisal using virtual reality. The, we will use fMRI to test the hypothesis that future-focused reappraisals are facilitated through enhanced prefrontal connectivity (Study 2) and test the hypothesis that vmPFC engagement during reappraisal planning predicts greater down-regulation following implementation (Study 3).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress and Health Study Section (MESH)
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Wijtenburg, Andrea
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University of Denver
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Yang, Xi; Garcia, Katelyn M; Jung, Youngkyoo et al. (2018) vmPFC activation during a stressor predicts positive emotions during stress recovery. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 13:256-268
Song, Yu; Jordan, Jessica I; Shaffer, Kelsey A et al. (2018) Effects of incidental positive emotion and cognitive reappraisal on affective responses to negative stimuli. Cogn Emot :1-14