The conscious effort to suppress emotions has the ability to reduce negative feelings and memories, scientists have found.

The scientists used functional MRI to track activity in the brains of 17 individuals undergoing an image-rating task.

A control group of 17 performed the same activities without functional MRI.

The study found similarities and differences between those who were explicitly told to suppress negative feelings and those unconsciously prompted to do so.

Both overt and covert emotional suppression reduced participants’ memory of the negative images one week later, the study found.

“Our interest in conducting this study started with a desire to identify alternative ways to help people with depression,” said Sanda Dolcos, U. of I. psychology professor, who conducted the research with graduate student Yuta Katsumi.

“Friends and family of depressed people often say, ‘Get yourself together and control your emotions,’ but this is not so easy.

“That’s why we are interested in implicit, or unconscious, emotional suppression.”

Katsumi said: “People with depression or other mood disorders tend to have trouble distancing themselves from their negative memories.

“If we can help them remember less or forget those negative memories, then maybe they can reallocate that attention to something more positive in their lives.

“Suppressing emotions appears to reduce negative memories, whether you do that consciously or unconsciously.

“But explicit emotional suppression takes effort. You have to have enough cognitive resources to do that, and people with clinical conditions might not be able to afford those resources.”

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