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Reducing future fears by suppressing the brain mechanisms underlying episodic simulation

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Benoit,  Roland G.
Max Planck Research Group Adaptive Memory, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Benoit, R. G., Davies, D. J., & Anderson, M. C. (2016). Reducing future fears by suppressing the brain mechanisms underlying episodic simulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(52), E8492-E8501. doi:10.1073/pnas.1606604114.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-2741-D
Abstract
Imagining future events conveys adaptive benefits, yet recurrent simulations of feared situations may help to maintain anxiety. In two studies, we tested the hypothesis that people can attenuate future fears by suppressing anticipatory simulations of dreaded events. Participants repeatedly imagined upsetting episodes that they feared might happen to them and suppressed imaginings of other such events. Suppressing imagination engaged the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which modulated activation in the hippocampus and in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Consistent with the role of the vmPFC in providing access to details that are typical for an event, stronger inhibition of this region was associated with greater forgetting of such details. Suppression further hindered participants’ ability to later freely envision suppressed episodes. Critically, it also reduced feelings of apprehensiveness about the feared scenario, and individuals who were particularly successful at down-regulating fears were also less trait-anxious. Attenuating apprehensiveness by suppressing simulations of feared events may thus be an effective coping strategy, suggesting that a deficiency in this mechanism could contribute to the development of anxiety.