ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 53 ›› Issue (5): 494-504.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2021.00494

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The role of ventrolateral prefrontal cortex on emotional regulation of social pain in depressed patients: A TMS study

MO Licheng1, GUO Tianyou1,2, ZHANG Yueyao1, XU Feng3, ZHANG Dandan1()   

  1. 1 School of Psychology, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China
    2 Union Shenzhen Hospital (Nanshan Hospital), Shenzhen 518052, China
    3 Shenzhen Yingchi Technology Co. Ltd., Shenzhen 518010, China
  • Received:2020-08-02 Published:2021-05-25 Online:2021-03-29
  • Contact: ZHANG Dandan
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(31970980);National Natural Science Foundation of China(31871115);Shenzhen basic research (free exploration) program(JCYJ20180305124305294)


Negative interpersonal experiences and negative social events are important inducing factors of depression, and social function impairment is one of the important characteristics of depressed patients, who usually show emotional disorder related to social pain. In order to improve the emotional regulation ability in depressed patients when they are in negative social situations or in front of negative social events, this study examined the change of emotional regulation ability in depressed patients following the activation of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) using the TMS. The results showed that the experimental group (n = 64), with the right VLPFC activated as well as adopting the reappraisal strategy, reported weaker negative emotional experiences in social exclusion situations than the control group (n = 63), suggesting that activating the right VLPFC could effectively improve the ability of patients to explicitly regulate emotions related to social pain. This study is the first attempt to improve the ability of emotional regulation in depressed patients by using TMS. These findings not only support the causal relationship between the VLPFC and reappraisal strategy, but also provide a clear neurotherapeutic target for clinical improvement of the ability of emotional regulation in patients with social dysfunctions such as depression. Further studies are needed to confirm the conclusions of this study and optimize the TMS treatments by exploring multi-session TMS protocols, changing the way of inducing social pain, comparing the treatment effect of the left and right VLPFC, and attempting to use other emotional regulation strategies.

Key words: depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, social pain, emotional regulation