vmPFC activation during a stressor predicts positive emotions during stress recovery

Xi Yang, Katelyn M. Garcia, Youngkyoo Jung, Christopher T. Whitlow, Kateri McRae, Christian E. Waugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Despite accruing evidence showing that positive emotions facilitate stress recovery, the neural basis for this effect remains unclear. To identify the underlying mechanism, we compared stress recovery for people reflecting on a stressor while in a positive emotional context with that for people in a neutral context. While blood-oxygen-level dependent data were being collected, participants (N=43) performed a stressful anagram task, which was followed by a recovery period during which they reflected on the stressor while watching a positive or neutral video. Participants also reported positive and negative emotions throughout the task as well as retrospective thoughts about the task. Although there was no effect of experimental context on emotional recovery, we found that ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) activation during the stressor predicted more positive emotions during recovery, which in turn predicted less negative emotions during recovery. In addition, the relationship between vmPFC activation and positive emotions during recovery was mediated by decentering-the meta-cognitive detachment of oneself from one's feelings. In sum, successful recovery from a stressor seems to be due to activation of positive emotion-related regions during the stressor itself as well as to their downstream effects on certain cognitive forms of emotion regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)256-268
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Change-point analysis
  • Emotion regulation
  • Positive emotions
  • Stress recovery
  • VmPFC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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