Emotion regulation using virtual environments and real-time fMRI neurofeedback

Valentina Lorenzetti, Bruno Melo, Rodrigo Basílio, Chao Suo, Murat Yücel, Carlos J. Tierra-Criollo, Jorge Moll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Neurofeedback (NFB) enables the voluntary regulation of brain activity, with promising applications to enhance and recover emotion and cognitive processes, and their underlying neurobiology. It remains unclear whether NFB can be used to aid and sustain complex emotions, with ecological validity implications. We provide a technical proof of concept of a novel real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rtfMRI) NFB procedure. Using rtfMRI-NFB, we enabled participants to voluntarily enhance their own neural activity while they experienced complex emotions. The rtfMRI-NFB software (FRIEND Engine) was adapted to provide a virtual environment as brain computer interface (BCI) and musical excerpts to induce two emotions (tenderness and anguish), aided by participants' preferred personalized strategies to maximize the intensity of these emotions. Eight participants from two experimental sites performed rtfMRI-NFB on two consecutive days in a counterbalanced design. On one day, rtfMRI-NFB was delivered to participants using a region of interest (ROI) method, while on the other day using a support vector machine (SVM) classifier. Our multimodal VR/NFB approach was technically feasible and robust as a method for real-time measurement of the neural correlates of complex emotional states and their voluntary modulation. Guided by the color changes of the virtual environment BCI during rtfMRI-NFB, participants successfully increased in real time, the activity of the septo-hypothalamic area and the amygdala during the ROI based rtfMRI-NFB, and successfully evoked distributed patterns of brain activity classified as tenderness and anguish during SVM-based rtfMRI-NFB. Offline fMRI analyses confirmed that during tenderness rtfMRI-NFB conditions, participants recruited the septo-hypothalamic area and other regions ascribed to social affiliative emotions (medial frontal/temporal pole and precuneus). During anguish rtfMRI-NFB conditions, participants recruited the amygdala and other dorsolateral prefrontal and additional regions associated with negative affect. These findings were robust and were demonstrable at the individual subject level, and were reflected in self-reported emotion intensity during rtfMRI-NFB, being observed with both ROI and SVM methods and across the two sites. Our multimodal VR/rtfMRI-NFB protocol provides an engaging tool for brain-based interventions to enhance emotional states in healthy subjects and may find applications in clinical conditions associated with anxiety, stress and impaired empathy among others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number390
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Volume9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2018

Keywords

  • BCI
  • Emotion regulation
  • FMRI
  • Neurofeedback
  • Region of interest
  • Support vector machine
  • Virtual environments
  • Virtual reality

Cite this

Lorenzetti, V., Melo, B., Basílio, R., Suo, C., Yücel, M., Tierra-Criollo, C. J., & Moll, J. (2018). Emotion regulation using virtual environments and real-time fMRI neurofeedback. Frontiers in Neurology, 9, [390]. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2018.00390
Lorenzetti, Valentina ; Melo, Bruno ; Basílio, Rodrigo ; Suo, Chao ; Yücel, Murat ; Tierra-Criollo, Carlos J. ; Moll, Jorge. / Emotion regulation using virtual environments and real-time fMRI neurofeedback. In: Frontiers in Neurology. 2018 ; Vol. 9.
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Emotion regulation using virtual environments and real-time fMRI neurofeedback. / Lorenzetti, Valentina; Melo, Bruno; Basílio, Rodrigo; Suo, Chao; Yücel, Murat; Tierra-Criollo, Carlos J.; Moll, Jorge.

In: Frontiers in Neurology, Vol. 9, 390, 24.07.2018.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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AU - Lorenzetti, Valentina

AU - Melo, Bruno

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AB - Neurofeedback (NFB) enables the voluntary regulation of brain activity, with promising applications to enhance and recover emotion and cognitive processes, and their underlying neurobiology. It remains unclear whether NFB can be used to aid and sustain complex emotions, with ecological validity implications. We provide a technical proof of concept of a novel real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rtfMRI) NFB procedure. Using rtfMRI-NFB, we enabled participants to voluntarily enhance their own neural activity while they experienced complex emotions. The rtfMRI-NFB software (FRIEND Engine) was adapted to provide a virtual environment as brain computer interface (BCI) and musical excerpts to induce two emotions (tenderness and anguish), aided by participants' preferred personalized strategies to maximize the intensity of these emotions. Eight participants from two experimental sites performed rtfMRI-NFB on two consecutive days in a counterbalanced design. On one day, rtfMRI-NFB was delivered to participants using a region of interest (ROI) method, while on the other day using a support vector machine (SVM) classifier. Our multimodal VR/NFB approach was technically feasible and robust as a method for real-time measurement of the neural correlates of complex emotional states and their voluntary modulation. Guided by the color changes of the virtual environment BCI during rtfMRI-NFB, participants successfully increased in real time, the activity of the septo-hypothalamic area and the amygdala during the ROI based rtfMRI-NFB, and successfully evoked distributed patterns of brain activity classified as tenderness and anguish during SVM-based rtfMRI-NFB. Offline fMRI analyses confirmed that during tenderness rtfMRI-NFB conditions, participants recruited the septo-hypothalamic area and other regions ascribed to social affiliative emotions (medial frontal/temporal pole and precuneus). During anguish rtfMRI-NFB conditions, participants recruited the amygdala and other dorsolateral prefrontal and additional regions associated with negative affect. These findings were robust and were demonstrable at the individual subject level, and were reflected in self-reported emotion intensity during rtfMRI-NFB, being observed with both ROI and SVM methods and across the two sites. Our multimodal VR/rtfMRI-NFB protocol provides an engaging tool for brain-based interventions to enhance emotional states in healthy subjects and may find applications in clinical conditions associated with anxiety, stress and impaired empathy among others.

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KW - Emotion regulation

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