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Neural mechanisms of the cognitive control of emotion

  • Melissa J. Green (a1) (a2) and Gin S. Malhi (a1) (a2) (a3)



Emotion regulation involves the initiation of new emotional responses and continual alteration of current emotions in response to rapidly changing environmental and social stimuli. The capacity to effectively implement emotion regulation strategies is essential for psychological health; impairments in the ability to regulate emotions may be critical to the development of clinical levels of depression, anxiety and mania.


This review provides a summary of findings from current research examining the neural mechanisms of emotion regulation by means of conscious cognitive strategies of reappraisal. These findings are considered in the context of related concepts of emotion perception and emotion generation, with discussion of the likely cognitive neuropsychological contributions to emotion regulation and the implications for psychiatric disorders.


Convergent evidence implicates an inhibitory role of prefrontal cortex and cingulate regions upon subcortical and cortical emotion generation systems in the cognitive control of emotional experience. Concurrent modulation of cortical activity by the peripheral nervous system is highlighted by recent studies using simultaneous physiological and neuroimaging techniques. Individual differences in emotion perception, generation of affect and neuropsychological skills are likely to have direct consequences for emotion regulation.


Emotion regulation relies on synergy within brain stem, limbic and cortical processes that promote the adaptive perception, generation and regulation of affect. Aberrant emotion processing in any of these stages may disrupt this self-sustaining regulatory system, with the potential to manifest in distinct forms of emotion dysregulation as seen in major psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.


Corresponding author

Dr Melissa J. Green, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, and Mood Disorders Unit, Black Dog Institute, Hospital Road, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, New South Wales 2031, Australia. Tel: 0061 (2) 9382 8382; Fax: 0061 (2) 9382 8151; E-mail:


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