Aversive events can be reexperienced as involuntary and spontaneous mental images of the event. Given that the vividness of retrieved mental images is coupled with elevated visual activation, we tested whether neuromodulation of the visual cortex would reduce the frequency and negative emotional intensity of intrusive memories. Intrusive memories of a viewed trauma film and their accompanied emotional intensity were recorded throughout 5 days. Functional connectivity, measured with resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging prior to film viewing, was used as predictive marker for intrusions-related negative emotional intensity. Results indicated that an interaction between the visual network and emotion processing areas predicted intrusions' emotional intensity. To test the causal influence of early visual cortex activity on intrusions' emotional intensity, participants' memory of the film was reactivated by brief reminders 1 day following film viewing, followed by inhibitory 1 Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over early visual cortex. Results showed that visual cortex inhibitory stimulation reduced the emotional intensity of later intrusions, while leaving intrusion frequency and explicit visual memory intact. Current findings suggest that early visual areas constitute a central node influencing the emotional intensity of intrusive memories for negative events. Potential neuroscience-driven intervention targets designed to downregulate the emotional intensity of intrusive memories are discussed.
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© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.
- intrusive memory
- visual cortex