AStER – Acute Stress and Emotion Regulation

The way we interpret and evaluate a situation contributes significantly to how we respond emotionally to that situation. In this light, emotion regulation is the ability to control which, when, and how intense we experience emotions. Here, we differentiate between different emotion regulation strategies. In psychological and neuroscientific research, the cognitive reappraisal of emotional information has emerged as one of the most effective strategies for regulating emotions and is currently discussed as a possible resilience mechanism. Cognitive reappraisal is primarily mediated by an activation of prefrontal brain regions, which in turn attenuate the activity of mid-brain limbic regions, such as the amygdala. However, in situations of acute stress, the prefrontal cortex typically shows diminished activity. As a result, executive processes mediated by prefrontal areas appear less effective and the ability to regulate emotions may be impaired. To date, however, there are only a few studies that investigated stress-related impairments in emotional regulation abilities and their neurobiological basis.

The AStER study contributes to this line of research by investigating the differential effects of acute stress on neuroendocrine systems and neural structures using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a first step. Subsequently, stress-related impairments in emotion regulation will be specifically addressed and individual differences in the ability to regulate emotions as a result of stress will be determined. Thereby, the AStER study makes a significant contribution to the investigation of stress-related dysfunctions and the development of possible resilience mechanisms.

Duration of study:
October 2016 until March 2020

Project C05 of the SFB1193 "Neurobiology of resilience", German Research Foundation

Prof. Dr. Michèle Wessa (principal investigator),
Dr. Giannis Lois,
Dr. Magdalena Sandner,
Dr. Peter Zeier