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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The purpose of the present study was to address this gap in the literature. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we asked male and female participants to use a cognitive emotion regulation strategy reappraisal to down-regulate their emotional responses to negatively valenced pictures. Behaviorally, men and women evidenced comparable decreases in negative emotion experience. Neurally, however, gender differences emerged. Compared with women, men showed a lesser increases in prefrontal regions that are associated with reappraisal, b greater decreases in the amygdala, which is associated with emotional responding, and c lesser engagement of ventral striatal regions, which are associated with reward processing.

We consider two non-competing explanations for these differences. First, men may expend less effort when using cognitive regulation, perhaps due to greater use of automatic emotion regulation. Second, women may use positive emotions in the service of reappraising negative emotions to a greater degree. We then consider the implications of gender differences in emotion regulation for understanding gender differences in emotional processing in general, and gender differences in affective disorders. The idea that men and women differ in their emotional responses is nearly irresistible.

Book after book, and magazine after magazine states and restates this thesis Gray, Such a view seems well justified by striking gender differences in the prevalence of affective disorders Bourdon et al. How can this puzzling state of affairs be explained?

One possibility is that the apparently obvious gender differences in emotional responding that we read about and think we see on a regular basis are the result not of differences in immediate emotional reactivity—as we typically imagine—but instead of differences in emotion regulation. After all, there is a growing appreciation of the fact that emotional responses are a t function of initial emotional reactivity and ongoing emotion regulation Gross, This means that it is impossible to tell from behavior alone whether differences between men and women in emotional responding are the result of differences in reactivity, regulation, or both.

In order to understand gender differences in emotional responding, we argue that it is necessary to a study the unique contributions of emotion and emotion regulation and b include measures that go beyond self-reports of emotional experience. To prepare the ground for a study that examines neural bases for gender differences in emotional reactivity and regulation, we first consider common beliefs about gender differences in emotion.

Next, we review empirical findings on gender differences in emotional responding. Noting the gap between popular expectations and empirical findings, we propose an that revolves around gender differences in emotion regulation. With the exception of anger and possibly pride, this belief generalizes across a range of discrete positive and negative emotions such as happiness, fear, disgust, and sadness Birnbaum et al.

Thus, the belief that women are more emotional than men is strongly held and pervasive across individuals, across emotional response domains, and across different emotions. Empirical studies of gender differences in emotion have produced far less consistent than might be expected based on popular convictions. In accordance with popular beliefs, there is some evidence that in the domain of emotional expression, women display more emotion than men Brody, However, reports of emotion measured in other domains are less straightforward.

Some studies of self-reported emotional experience indicate that women may indeed be more emotionally responsive than men Bradley et al. Studies using physiological responses to emotional stimuli—which are thought to be less subject to the biases associated with self report—hold out the possibility of clarifying the mixed findings from the self-report literature.

Studies of this nature only sometimes support the notion that also women are emotionally more reactive than men in terms of psycho-physiological reactivity Bradley et al. Another response domain that has attracted interest is brain responses, and in particular, activity in neural regions that are related to emotional responding, such as the amygdala. Although there appear to be gender differences in laterality of amygdala responding as it relates to subsequent memory Cahill et al. If gender differences typically fail to emerge in studies of emotional reactivity, how are we to explain the widespread consensus that there are gender differences in emotional responding?

And how are we to explain the marked gender differences in affective disorders? At least two possible explanations exist. The first possibility is that men and women do not actually differ in their emotional responding. If this were so, studies employing subjective measures of experience should observe gender differences, but studies that use implicit measures of emotion, or objective measures of physiological and neural changes due to emotion, should not show gender differences. This, however, is not what we see. A second possibility is that emotional responding, as measured in the majority of these studies, is a function of two dissociable processes: emotional reactivity and emotion regulation.

If this were the case, gender differences in emotional responding could arise either from differences in emotional reactivity per se, or from differences in how those emotions are regulated, or some interaction between emotional reactivity and emotion regulation. On this , the inconsistency in the literature is due to variation in the degree to which different experimental paradigms allow for the relative contributions of emotional reactivity and emotion regulation.

Emotion regulation can be deliberate or habitual, conscious or unconscious, and can involve changes in the magnitude, duration, or quality of one or several components of an emotional response. One particularly interesting candidate for examining gender differences in emotion regulation is cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal is an appropriate point of focus because this type of emotion regulation has been systematically studied in experimental contexts that allow for the separation of emotional reactivity and regulation.

Activity in emotion-responsive brain regions such as the amygdala and insula are effectively down-regulated by reappraisal. Simultaneously, regions of prefrontal cortex that have been implicated in cognitive control and working memory become more active during reappraisal Eippert et al.

These studies have led to the increasingly common conceptualization of emotional responding as the result of an interplay between emotion-responsive regions such as the amygdala and insula, and prefrontal cognitive control regions Urry et al. Despite the potential value of distinguishing between emotional reactivity and emotion regulation, most studies of gender differences in emotional responses using experimental stimuli do not address whether individuals are permitted to effortfully influence their emotional responses during the course of the experiment.

Consequently, most reports of gender differences in emotional tasks may be the downstream result of the natural interplay between emotional reactivity and the manipulation of that reactivity using emotion regulation. This conflation of reactivity and regulation makes it difficult to discern the true nature of gender differences in emotional responding. Because few studies in the literature experimentally separate reactivity from regulation, it is unknown how much ly reported gender differences in emotional responding reflect gender differences in reactivity, regulation, or both.

Unfortunately, most studies that are deed to separate reactivity from regulation have used only women Eippert et al. To our knowledge, no experimental study has allowed men and women to demonstrate their respective naturalistic reactivity to negative emotional stimuli along with their abilities to use cognitive regulation in order to down-regulate those negative emotional responses. However, these individual difference studies have at least two crucial limitations. First, these studies employ self-report measures which are subject to stereotypic biases. The present study addresses critical gaps in the literature by investigating gender differences in emotional reactivity and regulation.

We used an established within-subjects functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI paradigm to create conditions of unregulated responding and cognitive regulation using validated negative stimuli. Comparing unregulated responses to negative versus neutral stimuli allowed us to test for gender differences in reactivity, and comparing responses to negative stimuli under the instruction to reappraise versus the instruction to respond naturally allowed us to test for gender differences in emotion regulation ability.

We hypothesized that men and women would show comparable reactivity, as indexed by increases in self-reported emotional experience and activity in emotion-related regions such as the amygdala. We hypothesized that gender differences would emerge when considering the comparison between unregulated responding and cognitive regulation. More specifically, we predicted that women would show lesser decreases in negative affect due to regulation as indexed by decreases in self-reported negative affect and amygdala activity. We also predicted that these smaller decreases in emotional responding in women would be accompanied by lesser increases in prefrontal regions known to be involved in cognitive control.

Twenty-five participants between the ages of 18 and 22 were recruited and compensated for their time. Potential participants were excluded if they were a left-handed, b below age 18 or above age 22, c not native English speakers, d had current or past diagnosis of neurological or psychiatric disorder, e had a history of head trauma, f were pregnant, g currently used psychoactive medication, or h had any non-MRI compatible conditions e.

Participants provided written consent in compliance with the Institutional Review Board guidelines at Stanford University. The trial structure was identical to investigations of cognitive reappraisal e. Ochsner et al. The comparisons from the 8-second picture presentation period are the only trial periods reported here. A total of 90 trials 30 of each trial type were administered in 4 runs of 22 or 23 trials each. An LCD projector displayed stimuli on a screen mounted on a custom head coil fitted with a bite-bar to limit head motion.

Pictures were randomized into four different picture presentation orders to reduce the effect of idiosyncratic asment of picture to instruction and picture order. Within each order, pictures were counterbalanced into the look negative and the decrease negative conditions such that normative valence and arousal ratings did not differ between the two conditions.

Instruction and picture types were pseudo-randomized with the constraint that no more than three of any instruction type or picture type followed each other sequentially. After reading an overview of the task, participants completed a practice session during which the experimenter showed sample negative and neutral images not used in the experiment. For the regulation decrease trials, the experimenter prompted the participant to narrate aloud his or her self-generated reinterpretation of the image.

Any reports which suggested that participants were using a non-cognitive strategy such as expressive suppression, or averting attention from the emotional aspects of the picture led to the participants being corrected and redirected to use one of the three strategies mentioned above. A total of whole-brain images were taken in each of four 7-minute, second runs.

T2-weighted flow-compensated spin echo scans were acquired for anatomical localization using identical slice prescription as the functional scans. For the behavioral data, mean negative affect ratings were calculated for the look negative, look neutral, and decrease negative conditions. We used a repeated measures general linear model GLM with experimental condition look negative, decrease negative, or look neutral as a within-subjects factor and gender as a between-subjects factor.

Follow-up t tests were done to test for main effects of reactivity look negative versus look neutral trials and regulation decrease negative versus look negative trials and interactions with gender. Finally, images were smoothed with a 6 mm full width at half maximum kernel. Preprocessed images were entered into a GLM in SPM that modeled the canonical hemodynamic response function convolved with an 8-second boxcar representing the picture-viewing period. These individual contrasts were then entered into a one-sample t test to perform a random-effects group analysis.

We performed region of interest ROI analyses upon an a priori region of interest, the amygdala. These effects can be seen in Figure 2. Ratings of self-reported negative affect taken after each trial for conditions in which individuals were asked to look and respond naturally to neutral pictures Look Neutral , look and respond naturally to negative pictures Look Negative and use cognitive reappraisal to decrease their negative affect while looking at negative pictures Decrease Negative.

Error bars represent standard error of the mean SEM. To examine BOLD responses, we examined gender differences with respect to two contrasts, one focused on emotional reactivity, the second focused on emotion regulation. To examine emotional reactivity, we used an ROI approach to investigate our a priori region of interest, the amygdala. We examined reactivity by contrasting responses during the look negative condition with responses during the look neutral condition. To examine emotion regulation, we considered first the a priori region of interest associated with emotional reactivity, the amygdala.

Next, we used a whole-brain approach to identify regions associated with top-down control. To identify the neural correlates of decreased emotion reactivity due to regulation, we performed an ROI analysis on the amygdala. Group differences were investigated using a two-sample t test. The same two-sample t-test investigating greater activity in females than males did not return any ificant clusters. Men show greater down-regulation of left amygdala, as evidenced by greater decreases when using cognitive regulation. Error bars represent SEM.

To identify regions involved in active regulation, we used a whole-brain approach and identified regions that were ificantly more active during active regulation than the naturalistic viewing of negative pictures decrease negative—look negative trials. This contrast revealed greater activity in several regions ly associated with cognitive reappraisal, such as the anterior cingulate, superior, middle, and inferior frontal gyri, inferior parietal lobule, and superior and inferior temporal gyri see Table 1 , Figure 4.

Midline anterior cingulate activity is shown in panel A. Panels B and C are lateral renderings of the right and left sides of the brain respectively. In order to examine gender differences in these regions, we wanted to directly test voxels that showed greater activation during reappraisal in women than men.

To this end, we used a two-sample t test at the whole brain level. This analysis revealed several clusters that were more active in women than men during reappraisal of negative pictures. These areas included the ventral striatum, anterior cingulate, and superior frontal and inferior frontal gyri see Table 2 , p Figure 5.

Although there are widespread perceptions of gender differences in emotion, empirical studies have failed to provide clear evidence for such differences. The present study tested the hypothesis that gender differences in emotional responding might be due not to gender differences in emotional reactivity, but instead to gender differences in emotion regulation.

To test this hypothesis, we used subjective reports of negative affect and fMRI al from the amygdala to measure gender differences in emotional reactivity by comparing natural responses to negative and neutral pictures. We used these same measures of emotional responding to quantify gender differences in the success of cognitive regulation by comparing natural responses and cognitive regulation of negative pictures.

Finally, we used fMRI al from prefrontal regions to identify gender differences in control-related regions that are more active during cognitive regulation than naturalistic responding to negative pictures. In terms of self-reported negative affect, we found that the negative picture stimuli elicited comparable levels of negativity in men and women. In addition, both genders were equally effective at using cognitive reappraisal to down-regulate their negative affective responses to the negative pictures.

Neurally, we found that men and women show comparable amygdala response to the negative images, but men showed greater down-regulation than women as indexed by decreases in amygdala activity during reappraisal. Furthermore, men showed ificantly less activity than women in pre-frontal regions that have been ly observed as more active during the cognitive regulation of emotion.

Lastly, women showed greater ventral striatal activity during the down-regulation of negative emotion than men. The discrepancy between behavioral and BOLD responses offers potentially important insights regarding gender differences in emotion regulation.

Because men and women do not differ on either self-reported negative affect or amygdala reactivity to the unregulated negative pictures, it is unlikely that these differences arise because women initially found the negative images more unpleasant than men.

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Gender Differences in Emotion Regulation: An fMRI Study of Cognitive Reappraisal