The self-regulating brain: Cortical-subcortical feedback and the development of intelligent action
To speak of cognitive regulation versus emotion regulation may be misleading. However, some forms of regulation are carried out by executive processes, subject to voluntary control, while others are carried out by "automatic" processes that are far more primitive. Both sets of processes are in constant interaction, and that interaction gives rise to a stream of activity that is both cognitive and emotional. Studying the brain helps us understand these reciprocal regulatory influences in some detail. Cortical activities regulate subcortical activities through executive modulation of prepotent appraisals and emotional responses. Subcortical systems regulate the cortex by tuning its activities to the demands or opportunities provided by the environment. Cortical controls buy us time, as needed for planning and intelligent action. Subcortical controls provide energy, focus, and direction, as needed for relevant emotion-guided behaviour. We review the neural processes at work in both directions of regulatory activity, looking at the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as a hub of cortical systems mediating downward control, and discussing limbic, hypothalamic, and brainstem systems that mediate upward control. A macrosystem that displays both directions of control includes the ACC and the amygdala within a feedback circuit whose features vary with clinical-personality differences. Developmental changes in ACC-mediated self-regulation support advances in directed attention, response inhibition, and self-monitoring. Developmental changes in amygdala-mediated self-regulation involve the compilation of meanings that direct thought and behaviour, thus consolidating individual differences over the lifespan. In this way, the capacity to exert voluntary control develops alongside the accumulation of associations that trigger the responses that demand control. The balance between these developmental progressions has implications for personality formation and mental health.
Lewis M.D. & Todd R.M.