Critical Role of the Right VLPFC in Emotional Regulation of Social Exclusion: A tDCS Study

Zhenhong He, Yiqin Lin, Lisheng Xia, Zhenli Liu, Dandan Zhang, Rebecca Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is abundant evidence suggesting that the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (rVLPFC) plays an important role in down-regulating the emotional response to social exclusion. However, a causal relationship between rVLPFC function and explicit emotional regulation is not clear in the context of social exclusion. This study employed anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to activate rVLPFC while participants used emotional regulation to reappraise pictures of social exclusion. Forty-four participants were randomly assigned to an active tDCS group or a sham group. Both groups viewed social exclusion images under two conditions: in the no-reappraisal condition, participants were instructed to passively view social exclusion images; in the reappraisal condition, they reappraised the images to down-regulate negative emotional responses. Compared to sham stimulation, anodal tDCS over the rVLPFC resulted in less negative emotion ratings, and produced significantly smaller pupil diameter in the reappraisal, compared to no-reappraisal block. The tDCS also led to longer fixation durations to rejectees and shorter fixation durations to rejecters. Taken together, these findings suggest a causal role for rVLPFC in down-regulation of negative emotions produced by social exclusion. This study has implications for clinical interventions targeting emotional regulation deficits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-366
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number4
Early online date28 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • transcranial direct current stimulation
  • right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex
  • emotional regulation
  • cognitive reappraisal
  • eye tracking


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