Functional neuroimaging studies have helped identify neural systems involved in cognitive processing and more recently have indicated limbic activation to emotional stimuli. Some functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have reported increased amygdala response during exposure to emotional stimuli while others have not shown such activation. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that activation of the amygdala is related to the relevance of the emotional valence of stimuli. Healthy young participants (7 men, 7 women) were studied in a high-field (4 tesla) scanner using blood oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) signal changes in a blocked "box car" design. They viewed facial displays of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust as well as neutral faces obtained from professional actors and actresses of diverse ethnicity and age. Their task alternated between emotion discrimination (indicating whether the emotion was positive or negative) and age discrimination (indicating whether the poser was older or younger than 30). Blocks contained the same proportion of emotional and neutral faces. Limbic response was greater during the emotion than during the age discrimination conditions. The response was most pronounced in the amygdala, but was also present in the hippocampus and circumscribed voxels in other limbic regions. These results support the central role of the amygdala in emotion processing, and indicate its sensitivity to the task relevance of the emotional display.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience