London, June 30 : Thinking about kicking the butt? Well, then recollect all the happy times in your life and what good the future holds for you, for a new study has suggested that thinking happy thoughts could help dampen cravings.
A study by neuroscientists at New York University and Rutgers University has cited that the cognitive strategies humans use for regulating emotions can reveal about both the neurological and physiological responses to potential rewards. These findings, may divulge more details about how the regulation of emotions can manipulate decision-making.
Mauricio R. Delgado, who conducted the study at the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps, said that if drug addicts, gambling addicts or alcoholics are worse at ignoring their cravings than others, cognitive control might help them kick their habit. Yet promise of a high will be harder to temper than the chance to win a few bucks.
In earlier research, it was shown that these strategies can alter responses to negative events. But, not much was known if such strategies can also efficiently regulate expectations of a future reward or a desired outcome.
Already, scientists have found that the expectation of a potential reward brings about positive feelings and helps in identifying environmental cues that predict future rewards. A major role in this process is played by striatum, a multi-faceted structure in the brain that is involved in reward processing, which is especially engaged when potential rewards are predicted or anticipated.
But the researchers said that the striatum signal is not always beneficial, as its activity also correlates with drug-specific cravings, which even elevates urges to partake in risk-seeking behaviour in the pursuit of detrimental rewards. Thus, it is important to know how to regulate or control the positive feelings linked with reward expectation.
The new study was aimed at understanding the influence of emotional regulation strategies on the physiological and neural processes applicable to expectations of reward.
In the study, the subjects were presented with two conditioned stimuli, a blue and a yellow square that either predicted or did not predict a potential monetary reward. Before each trial, they were also given a written cue that instructed them to either respond to the stimulus or regulate their emotional response to the stimulus. Also, the researchers took their skin conductance responses (SCRs) at the beginning of each conditioned stimulus. These were taken as a behavioural measure of physiological reaction potentially related to reward anticipation.
It was found that the participants' emotion regulation strategies may influence physiological and neural responses relevant to the expectation of reward.
In fact, it was the results from the SCRs, which revealed that the subjects' emotion regulation strategies lessened arousal linked to the anticipation of a potential reward.
"Our findings demonstrated that emotion regulation strategies can successfully curb physiological and neural responses associated with the expectation of reward. This is a first step to understanding how our thoughts may effectively control positive emotions and eventual urges that may arise, such as drug cravings," Nature quoted Delgado, as saying.
The study is reported in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.