Conscious awareness of negative cues is thought to enhance emotion-regulatory capacity, but the neural mechanisms underlying this effect are unknown. Using continuous flash suppression (CFS) in the MRI scanner, we manipulated visual awareness of fearful faces during an affect misattribution paradigm, in which preferences for neutral objects can be biased by the valence of a previously presented stimulus. The amygdala responded to fearful faces independently of awareness. However, when awareness of fearful faces was prevented, individuals with greater amygdala responses displayed a negative bias toward unrelated novel neutral faces. In contrast, during the aware condition, inverse coupling between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex reduced this bias, particularly among individuals with higher structural connectivity in the major white matter pathway connecting the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Collectively, these results indicate that awareness promotes the function of a critical emotion-regulatory network targeting the amygdala, providing a mechanistic account for the role of awareness in emotion regulation.
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