Find that you can't hold back your emotional storms in front of your partner? Well, a part of your brain might be of some help to control these much-regretted anger vents.
A new study has suggested that the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) is a brain region that may help people to control their emotional reactions to negative facial expressions from their romantic partners.
For the study, Christine Hooker and her colleagues recruited healthy, adult participants in committed relationships.
The research subjects viewed positive, negative, and neutral facial expressions of their partners during a brain scan.
In an online daily diary, participants reported conflict occurrence, level of negative mood, rumination, and substance use.
It was found that LPFC activity in response to the laboratory-based affective challenge predicted self-regulation after an interpersonal conflict in daily life.
When there was no interpersonal conflict, LPFC activity was not related to mood or behaviour the next day.
However, when an interpersonal conflict did occur, LPFC activity predicted mood and behaviour the next day, such that lower activity was related to higher levels of negative mood, rumination, and substance use.
The study findings suggest that low LPFC function may be a risk factor for mood and behavioural problems after a stressful interpersonal event.
The constructive management of negative emotional states that emerge inevitably within romantic relationships can be a critical facet of coping with the world.
The relationships frequently serve as emotional havens from the stresses of the working world.
Yet these relationships also may augment rather than reduce life stress. When that happens, problematic behaviours such as over-eating and substance abuse may increase.
"When activated in the context of intense emotion, it appears that the LPFC helps us to manage the intensity of negative emotions that emerge in social relationships. When this brain region does not efficiently activate or when the intensity of the conflict is very high, people need to learn behavioral strategies to cope with the emotional response. For some people this strategy can be as simple as counting to 10 before doing something that they might regret later," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
Dr. Hooker explained that their findings "suggest that imaging can provide potentially useful information about who may be vulnerable to mood and behavioral problems after a stressful event. We hope that future research will build on this idea and explore ways that imaging can be used to inform people about their emotional vulnerabilities."
The new study has been published in Biological Psychiatry.