Friday, October 24, 2014

Study: Putting Feelings Into Words

Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli

Matthew D. Lieberman,
Naomi I. Eisenberger,
Molly J. Crockett,
Sabrina M. Tom,
Jennifer H. Pfeifer and
Baldwin M. Way

University of California, Los Angeles


Putting feelings into words (affect labeling) has long been thought to help manage negative emotional experiences; however, the mechanisms by which affect labeling produces this benefit remain largely unknown. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest a possible neurocognitive pathway for this process, but methodological limitations of previous studies have prevented strong inferences from being drawn. A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of affect labeling was conducted to remedy these limitations. The results indicated that affect labeling, relative to other forms of encoding, diminished the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions to negative emotional images. Additionally, affect labeling produced increased activity in a single brain region, right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC). Finally, RVLPFC and amygdala activity during affect labeling were inversely correlated, a relationship that was mediated by activity in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). These results suggest that affect labeling may diminish emotional reactivity along a pathway from RVLPFC to MPFC to the amygdala.

Address correspondence to Matthew Lieberman, Department of Psychology, Franz Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1563, e-mail:

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