Prefrontal control

Previous research

The regulation of social–emotional behavior is crucial for social interactions. Events with a positive or negative valence, such as perceiving a happy or angry facial expression trigger automatic emotional behavioural tendencies. These tendencies favour approach behaviour for positive, and avoidance behaviour for negative stimuli. However, it is not always beneficial or adaptive to implement these action tendencies. In such cases, we are able to control our automatic response tendencies to approach or avoid emotional stimuli.
In this line of research we have studied how behavioral action tendencies that are triggered by emotional stimuli are overridden by control signals stemming from the prefrontal cortex. We have shown that anterior prefrontal (aPFC) has an inhibitory influence on amygdala function (Roelofs et al., 2009) and most likely works together with posterior parietal cortex (PPC) to override emotional biases (figure 1; Volman et al., 2011a).  The dynamics of this system appear to be influenced by hormone levels, such as testosterone and cortisol (figure 2; Volman et al., 2011b), and are altered in aggression-related disorders, such as psychopathy (figure 3;Volman et al., 2016).


Current research

Currently, we are investigating the electrophysiological origin of prefrontal control, using the approach-avoidance paradigm in the MEG (Bob Bramson). First results indicate that control over emotional action biases is implemented by an increase in frontal theta oscillations before the response (figure 4 and 5) and a decrease in beta power over parietal regions (figure 6). How these two rythms are related, and what their contribution is to behavior is currently being examined.

In addition to the electrophysiology, we are conducting a large (n=400+) longitudinal study in which we are investigating whether the successful implementation of frontal control (as measured with fMRI) during the overriding of automatically triggered approach-avoidance tendencies is a predictor for the development of stress related symptoms (Reinoud Kaldeway).



Full references:

Roelofs, K. & Minelli, A. & Mars, R.B. & Peer, J.M., van & Toni, I. (2009). On the neural control of social emotional behavior. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 4, pp. 50-58. pdf.

Volman, I., von Borries, A. K. L., Bulten, B. H., Verkes, R. J., Toni, I., & Roelofs, K. (2016). Testosterone modulates altered prefrontal control of emotional actions in psychopathic offenders. eneuro, 3(1), ENEURO-0107. pdf.

Volman, I., Toni, I., Verhagen, L., & Roelofs, K. (2011). Endogenous testosterone modulates prefrontal-amygdala connectivity during social emotional behavior. Cerebral Cortex 21(10):2282-90. pdf.