Effective mental functioning requires that cognition be protected from emotional conflict due to interference by task-irrelevant emotionally salient stimuli. The neural mechanisms by which the brain detects and resolves emotional conflict are still largely unknown, however. Drawing on the classic Stroop conflict task, we developed a protocol that allowed us to dissociate the generation and monitoring of emotional conflict from its resolution. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we find that activity in the amygdala and dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices reflects the amount of emotional conflict. By contrast, the resolution of emotional conflict is associated with activation of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. Activation of the rostral cingulate is predicted by the amount of previous-trial conflict-related neural activity and is accompanied by a simultaneous and correlated reduction of amygdalar activity. These data suggest that emotional conflict is resolved through top-down inhibition of amygdalar activity by the rostral cingulate cortex.
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