Turn down your amygdala and modify your emotions

A study that tested a new imaging method using electroencephalography (EEG) to provide reliable neurofeedback for activity in the amygdala and allowing those being monitored to moduclate their own emotional responses may be a new treatment for traumatic stress [ref]. The technique involve training to use an auditory or visual signal that corresponds to the activity of a particular brain region (neurofeedback).

Treating stress-related disorders needs us to access the amygdala, the brain's emotional hub, the amygdala. This area of the brain is located deep in the brain and difficult to reach using typical neurofeedback methods. Its activity is typically only monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This is costly and difficult to get access to for clinical use.

The proposed new method is described in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry and represents a low-cost and accessible imaging method such as EEG to depict deeply located brain activity. The researchers built upon a new imaging tool they had developed in a previous study. Participants were trained to reduce an auditory feedback corresponding to their amygdala activity using any mental strategies they found effective - they learned to modulate their own amygdala electrical activity. This also led to improved downregulation of blood-oxygen level dependent signals of the amygdala, an indicator of regional activation measured with fMRI.

Researchers showed that learning to downregulate amygdala activity could actually improve behavioral emotion regulation [ref]. They showed this using a behavioral task invoking emotional processing in the amygdala. The findings show that with this new imaging tool, people can modify both the neural processes and behavioral manifestations of their emotions. According to the authors, this new method has huge clinical implications. The mobility and low cost of EEG contribute to its potential for a home-stationed bedside treatment for recent trauma patients or for stress resilience training for people prone to trauma.