Emotional responding & regulation.
A hallmark of human social experience is the continuous exposure to rapidly varying emotional events. What features of emotional responding promote resilience over the lifespan, and reduce vulnerability to stress and psychopathology? A core focus of the Lapate Experimental Affective Psychology and Neuroscience Laboratory (LEAP Neuro lab) is to understand mechanisms that govern the duration of emotional responses and their context-appropriate expression using behavioral assays and recordings of peripheral-physiology. Our prior work focused on individual differences in wellbeing has uncovered that the duration of spontaneous emotional reactions (affective chronometry) in response to positive stimuli is influenced (i.e. shortened) by psychosocial stress, and is relevant for the emergence of major depression over time (Lapate et al., Psychophysiology, 2014), and that goal-based emotion-regulatory capacity is shared across the domains of negative emotion and nociceptive pain (Lapate et al., Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2012).
Organizational principles of the frontal lobe for emotion.
There is broad consensus that the prefrontal cortex plays a pivotal role in emotional processing and regulation, but our understanding of the functional contributions of neuroanatomically distinct prefrontal regions remains elusive. Using novel combinations of multivariate analysis of fMRI data, neuroanatomically-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and electroencephalography (EEG), the LEAP Neuro lab seeks to establish how cytoarchitectonically distinct regions of the frontal lobe determine the unfolding of human emotional responses, behavioral response selection, and emotional memory. Our prior work demonstrated a causal role for mid-lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) in constraining the automatic influence of emotional information on subsequent appraisals—in other words, reducing the affective “spillover” from one moment to the next, which prevented the formation of biased emotional memories (Lapate et al., Psychological Science, 2017). Our current research tests the causal role of action goal representations in PFC on shaping the influence that emotional cues have on motor behavior (Lapate et al. SfN 2018; Lapate et al. OHBM 2019). Another line of work examines whether organizational principles of cognitive control along the rostro-caudal axis of the lateral prefrontal cortex generalize to the domain of emotion via connectivity gradients with the amygdala (Lapate et al. BAAS 2018).
Function of conscious awareness.
Conscious awareness refers to processing accompanied by subjective experience, about which one can report under normal circumstances. Our information processing capacity is limited, thus we are frequently exposed to more signals than we are consciously aware of. As social creatures, those signals often include non-verbal cues with emotional information, such as facial behavior that emerges during our interactions with others. Given the adaptive value of those cues, it is unsurprising they are easily processed, and can provoke certain neural, peripheral physiological, and behavioral responses regardless of us being subjectively aware of them. But what then, if any, is the function of conscious awareness in emotion? Awareness of emotional triggers is commonly encouraged in therapy, yet, research evidence examining or supporting its benefits is scarce. Using visual awareness manipulations, in conjunction with peripheral-physiological indices of emotional responding, the LEAP Neuro lab seeks to uncover the functional role of subjective and metacognitive awareness in emotion. Our prior work suggests that conscious awareness facilitates the regulation of affective “spillover” of emotional responses to unrelated social stimuli (Lapate et al., Psychological Science, 2014). This behavioral-regulatory benefit of conscious awareness was associated with enhanced function of lateral and medial PFC circuitry targeting the amygdala, as indicated by converging evidence from functional and structural indices of amygdala-prefrontal connectivity (Lapate et al., Scientific Reports, 2016). When probing the causal contributions of this circuitry, we found that function of the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) promoted metacognitive awareness of emotional faces, particularly of their perceptual features (as opposed to their emotional valence per se; Lapate, Nature of Emotion, 2018; Lapate et al, submitted). Future work will further examine the domain specialization, function and neural underpinnings of metacognitive awareness of emotion, as well as how awareness of bodily responses (i.e. interoception) may shape emotion metacognition.