Neuroanatomy of expressive suppression: The role of the insula.

Luma Muhtadie, Claudia M. Haase, Alice Verstaen, Virginia E. Sturm, Bruce L. Miller, Robert W. Levenson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Expressive suppression is a response-focused regulatory strategy aimed at concealing the outward expression of emotion that is already underway. Expressive suppression requires the integration of interoception, proprioception, and social awareness to guide behavior in alignment with personal and interpersonal goals—all processes known to involve the insular cortex. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) provides a useful patient model for studying the insula's role in socioemotional regulation. The insula is a key target of early atrophy in FTD, causing patients to lose the ability to represent the salience of internal and external conditions and to use these representations to guide behavior. We examined a sample of 59 patients with FTD, 52 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and 38 neurologically healthy controls. Subjects viewed 2 disgust-eliciting films in the laboratory. During the first film, subjects were instructed to simply watch (emotional reactivity trial); during the second, they were instructed to hide their emotions (expressive suppression trial). Structural images from a subsample of participants (n = 42; 11 FTD patients, 11 AD patients, and 20 controls) were examined in conjunction with behavior. FreeSurfer was used to quantify regional gray matter volume in 41 empirically derived neural regions in both hemispheres. Of the 3 groups studied, FTD patients showed the least expressive suppression and had the smallest insula volumes, even after controlling for age, gender, and emotional reactivity. Among the brain regions examined, the insula was the only significant predictor of expressive suppression ability, with lower insula gray matter volume in both hemispheres predicting less expressive suppression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-418
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • disgust
  • expressive suppression
  • insula
  • neurodegenerative disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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