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Attenuating Neural Threat Expression with Imagination

51 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2019 Sneak Peek Status: Published

See all articles by Marianne Cumella Reddan

Marianne Cumella Reddan

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

Tor Wager

University of Colorado at Boulder

Daniela Schiller

Mount Sinai Health System - Department of Psychiatry

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Abstract

Imagination is an internal simulation of real-life events. In the clinic, imagination is a common treatment tool for anxiety disorders, but the neural processes through which imagination exerts behavioral control are unclear. This investigation tests if and how imagined exposures to a threatening stimulus, conditioned in the real world, influence neural and bodily manifestations of threat. We found that imagined extinction and real extinction are equally effective in the reduction of threat-related neural patterns and physiological responses elicited upon re-exposure to real-world threatening cues. Network connectivity analysis during the extinction phase showed that imagined extinction, like real extinction, engaged the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) as a central hub. Furthermore, vmPFC, primary auditory cortex and amygdala activation during imagined and real extinction predicted extinction success, measured by one’s neural threat pattern expression upon reexposure to the real-world cues. The nucleus accumbens, however, uniquely predicted extinction success in the imagined extinction group alone. We conclude that deliberate imagination can attenuate reactions to threat by utilizing perceptual and learning neural mechanisms.

Suggested Citation

Reddan, Marianne Cumella and Wager, Tor and Schiller, Daniela, Attenuating Neural Threat Expression with Imagination (2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3231857 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3231857
This is a paper under consideration at Cell Press and has not been peer-reviewed.

Marianne Cumella Reddan

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Psychology and Neuroscience ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Tor Wager

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

Boulder, CO

Daniela Schiller (Contact Author)

Mount Sinai Health System - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

New York, NY 10025
United States

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