New paper on the impact of cortisol on cognitive emotion regulation

Acute stress leads to the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol and influences how we experience and react to emotional situations. Previous studies provide evidence for stress-induced beneficial effects on cognitive emotion regulation possibly mediated via cortisol increases. Cortisol can induce fast, non-genomic and slow, genomic effects on cognitive control functions. In this study, we therefore directly compared immediate and delayed effects of oral cortisol administration on the effectiveness to downregulate negative emotions via reappraisal and distraction and additionally explored the role of stimulus intensity. Affective ratings and pupil dilations served as regulatory outcome measures and verified successful regulation of high but not low intensive emotions. Independent of timing, cortisol further improved the effectiveness of cognitive emotion regulation via reappraisal and distraction with respect to high intensive emotions only. In sum, this study provides evidence that cortisol may promote the cognitive control of emotions as a function of stimulus intensity both, 30 and 90 min after treatment. Our work therefore support and extend previous findings emphasizing the crucial role of cortisol mediating stress effects on cognitive emotion regulation processes that may support an adaptive recovery from acute stress states.

The full citation of the new paper is: Langer, K., Jentsch, V.L., Wolf, O.T. (2021). Cortisol promotes the cognitive regulation of high intensive emotions independent of timing. European Journal of Neuroscience, 00:1– 15. ejn.15182. Our work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; German Research Foundation; Project WO 733/15-1).


 New paper on the impact of cortisol on the neural correlates of stimulus-based extinction generalization

The generalization of extinction learning constitutes a crucial factor for the success of exposure therapy: While healthy individuals and patients with anxiety disorders easily generalize fear responses, extinction learning is more stimulus specific. Thus, extinction generalization treatments provide the opportunity to counteract stimulus specificity and reduce relapses. Importantly, stress was observed to impair extinction retrieval, arguing for stress as one major challenge for long-term success of exposure therapy. In this fMRI experiment we aimed to create a generalized extinction memory by presenting multiple sized of one conditioned stimulus during extinction training (CS+G; generalized), whereas the other conditioned stimulus was solely presented in its original size (CS+N; non-generalized). During extinction training we observed higher activation in fear-related areas and lower activation in safety-related areas for the CS+G vs CS+N, arguing for prolonged fear processing. However, this pattern reversed during recall: We observed lower activation of fear-related areas for CS+G vs CS+N, arguing for reduced fear expression. In addition, cortisol appeared to block these beneficial effects of extinction generalization on recall. In conclusion, these results suggest that stimulus-based extinction generalization inherits the opportunity to foster extinction learning, hence, reducing return of fear and ultimately reducing relapses. However, stimulus-based extinction generalization is not able to overcome the negative effects of stress on extinction recall.
The new paper Hagedorn B., Wolf O.T. & Merz C.J. (2021). ‘Stimulus-based extinction generalization: Neural correlates and modulation by cortisol. has been published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. Our work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; German Research Foundation) within the SFB 1280 Extinction Learning (grant number: 316803389 - SFB1280; project A09 (OTW, CJM)).

Anika Pützer successfully defended her PhD

At the IGSN Anika Pützer successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled “Olfactory cues in associative learning, emotional memory and stress”
Congratulations Anika and all the best! 

New paper on the impact of acute stress on cognitive emotion regulation

The ability to successfully downregulate negative emotions is a crucial factor of mental health. Initial studies indicated either impairing or beneficial effects of acute stress on cognitive emotion regulation. In this paper, we investigated whether and how stress and its interactions with sex influence the effectivity of two commonly used emotion regulation strategies – reappraisal and distraction. Our results revealed that acute stress improves emotion regulation success via reappraisal in men indicated by reduced arousal and increased valence and success ratings. Furthermore, stressed men showed a significant increase in pupil diameter after downregulating negative emotions via reappraisal. The boosted expansion of pupil diameter under stress might be indicative for an enhanced cognitive engagement, which may have led to better emotion regulation outcomes. Secretion of the stress hormone cortisol was positively correlated with subjective reappraisal success in men. This suggests that the beneficial effects of stress on cognitive reappraisal might be driven by a glucocorticoid mechanism. Taken together, the results of this paper revealed that acute stress promotes the cognitive engagement to downregulate negative emotions via reappraisal in men resulting in better emotion regulatory outcomes.

The full citation of the new paper is:
Langer, K., Hagedorn, B., Stock, L.-M., Otto, T., Wolf, O.T. & Jentsch, V.L. (2020). Acute stress improves the effectivity of cognitive emotion regulation in men. Scientific Reports, 10(11571). doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-68137-5.

Our work on the effects of acute stress on cognitive emotion regulation is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; Project WO 733/15-1).

New paper on the impact of emotion regulation on acute stress reactivity

Successful emotion regulation during stressful events is a key feature of mental health. However, to date, brief laboratory interventions to improve emotion regulation during acute stressors resulted in rather enhanced than reduced cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses. In this paper, we hypothesize that such heightened stress reactivity could result from a mismatch between instructed emotion regulation and a person’s habitual tendency to use the respective strategies in daily life. To test this hypothesis, we asked participants to use either cognitive reappraisal or expressive suppression (vs. control) to regulate their emotions during the Trier Social Stress Test and explored whether this experimental manipulation would interact with trait forms of emotion regulation in altering psychological, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses. We found that habitual reappraisers allocated to the reappraisal group exhibited the steepest decrease in heart rate variability (HRV) during the acute stress phase but also a stronger HRV recovery in the post-stressor phase. Furthermore, they reported enhanced positive affect, whereas participants required to suppress emotions experienced the stressor as more unpleasant and expressed higher cortisol levels than controls. Heightened cortisol reactivity was also found in the reappraisal group, but only for individuals scoring low on trait reappraisal. Together, these results suggest that cognitive reappraisal (but not expressive suppression) fosters psychological adaptation and cardiac vagal flexibility in response to an acute stressor, but also imply that strategy efficacy critically depends on its habitual use in daily life.

The new paper Jentsch, V.L. & Wolf, O.T. (e-pub ahead of print). ‘The impact of emotion regulation on cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses’ has been published in the journal Biological Psychology.

Our work on cognitive emotion regulation and its impact on stress reactivity is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; Project WO 733/15-1).