Emotion regulation and excess weight: Impaired affective processing characterized by dysfunctional insula activation and connectivity
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Emotion-regulation strategies are understood to influence food intake. This study examined the neurophysiological underpinnings of negative emotion processing and emotion regulation in individuals with excess weight compared to normal-weight controls. Fifteen participants with excess-weight (body mass index >25) and sixteen normal-weight controls (body mass index 18-25) performed an emotion-regulation task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants were exposed to 24 negative affective or neutral pictures that they were instructed to Observe (neutral pictures), Maintain (sustain the emotion elicited by negative pictures) or Regulate (down-regulate the emotion provoked by negative pictures through previously trained reappraisal techniques). When instructed to regulate negative emotions by means of cognitive reappraisal, participants with excess weight displayed persistently heightened activation in the right anterior insula. Decreased responsivity was also found in right anterior insula, the orbitofrontal cortex and cerebellum during negative emotion experience in participants with excess weight. Psycho-physiological interaction analyses showed that excess-weight participants had decreased negative functional coupling between the right anterior insula and the right dlPFC, and the bilateral dmPFC during cognitive reappraisal. Our findings support contentions that excess weight is linked to an abnormal pattern of neural activation and connectivity during the experience and regulation of negative emotions, with the insula playing a key role in these alterations. We posit that ineffective regulation of emotional states contributes to the acquisition and preservation of excess weight.