In many studies of the interaction between cognitive control and emotion, the orbitofrontal cortex/ventromedial prefrontal cortex (mOFC/vmPFC) has been associated with an inhibitory function on limbic areas activated by emotionally arousing stimuli, such as the amygdala. This has led to the hypothesis of an inhibitory or regulatory role of mOFC/vmPFC. In studies of cognition and executive function, however, this area is deactivated by focused effort, raising the issue of the nature of the putative regulatory process associated with mOFC/vmPFC. This issue is here revisited in light of findings in the neuroeconomics field demonstrating the importance of mOFC/vmPFC to encoding the subjective value of stimuli or their economic utility. Many studies show that mOFC/vmPFC activity may affect response by activating personal preferences, instead of resorting to effortful control mechanisms typically associated with emotion regulation. Based on these findings, I argue that a simple automatic/controlled dichotomy is insufficient to describe the data on emotion and control of response adequately. Instead, I argue that the notion of subjective value from neuroeconomics studies and the notion of attentional orienting may play key roles in integrating emotion and cognition. mOFC/vmPFC may work together with the inferior parietal lobe, the cortical region associated with attentional orienting, to convey information about motivational priorities and facilitate processing of inputs that are behaviorally relevant. I also suggest that the dominant mode of function of this ventral network may be a distinct type of process with intermediate properties between the automatic and the controlled, and which may co-operate with effortful control processes in order to steer response.
Viviani, R. (2014). Neural Correlates of Emotion Regulation in the Ventral Prefrontal Cortex and the Encoding of Subjective Value and Economic Utility. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00123