Past research has shown that the interaction of bottom-up and top-down processes is what leads to the development of emotions. Until recently, there have not been studies that look at bottom-up and top-down processes respectively. Neuroscientists have put their greatest focus on bottom-up processes’ involvement in perception, learning, and memory, but failed to focus on top-down processes. Because of this, there has not been a true understanding of how these processes, bottom-up and top-down, individually affect the brain activities involved in emotion.
A new study published by The Association for Psychological Science does just this. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), researchers studied whether common or distinct neural systems were involved in generating negative emotional responses via bottom-up versus top-down processing. They did this by showing participants aversive images for bottom-up trials, and neutral images which participants were asked to interpret in aversive ways for top-down trials.
Fundamentally, this study showed how there could be many possible appraisal processes that the brain goes through, and helped to define what mechanisms underlie the relevant forms of emotion dysregulation.
Ochsner, K. N., Ray, R. R., Hughes, B., McRae, K, Cooper, J. C., Weber, J, Gabrieli, J. D. E., & Gross, J. J. (2009). Bottom-up and top-down processes in emotion generation. The Association for Psychological Science, 20, 1322-1331.