Questioning the role of amygdala and insula in an attentional capture by emotional stimuli task.
ABSTRACT: Our senses are constantly monitoring the environment for emotionally salient stimuli that are potentially relevant for survival. Because of our limited cognitive resources, emotionally salient distractors prolong reaction times (RTs) as compared to neutral distractors. In addition, many studies have reported fMRI blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) activation of both the amygdala and the anterior insula for similar valence contrasts. However, a direct correlation of trail-by-trial BOLD activity with RTs has not been shown, yet, which would be a crucial piece of evidence to relate the two observations. To investigate the role of the above two regions in the context of emotional distractor effects, we study here the correlation between BOLD activity and RTs for a simple attentional capture by emotional stimuli (ACES) choice reaction time task using a general linear subject-level model with a parametric RT regressor. We found significant regression coefficients in the anterior insula, supplementary motor cortex, medial precentral regions, sensory-motor areas and others, but not in the amygdala, despite activation of both insula and amygdala in the traditional valence contrast across trials (i.e., negative vs. neutral pictures). In addition, we found that subjects that exhibit a stronger RT distractor effect across trials also show a stronger BOLD valence contrast in the right anterior insula but not in the amygdala. Our results indicate that the current neuroimaging-based evidence for the involvement of the amygdala in RT slowing is limited. We advocate that models of emotional capture should incorporate both the amygdala and the anterior insula as separate entities.
Project description:Newborns and infants communicate their needs and physiological states through crying and emotional facial expressions. Little is known about individual differences in responding to infant crying. Several theories suggest that people vary in their environmental sensitivity with some responding generally more and some generally less to environmental stimuli. Such differences in environmental sensitivity have been associated with personality traits, including neuroticism. This study investigated whether neuroticism impacts neuronal, physiological, and emotional responses to infant crying by investigating blood-oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a large sample of healthy women (N = 102) with simultaneous skin conductance recordings. Participants were repeatedly exposed to a video clip that showed crying infants and emotional responses (valence, arousal, and irritation) were assessed after every video clip presentation. Increased BOLD signal during the perception of crying infants was found in brain regions that are associated with emotional responding, the amygdala and anterior insula. Significant BOLD signal decrements (i.e., habituation) were found in the fusiform gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus, Broca's homologue on the right hemisphere, (laterobasal) amygdala, and hippocampus. Individuals with high neuroticism showed stronger activation in the amygdala and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) when exposed to infant crying compared to individuals with low neuroticism. In contrast to our prediction we found no evidence that neuroticism impacts fMRI-based measures of habituation. Individuals with high neuroticism showed elevated skin conductance responses, experienced more irritation, and perceived infant crying as more unpleasant. The results support the hypothesis that individuals high in neuroticism are more emotionally responsive, experience more negative emotions, and may show enhanced cognitive control during the exposure to infant distress, which may impact infant-directed behavior.
Project description:Smoking abstinence disrupts affective and cognitive processes. In this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate the effects of smoking abstinence on emotional information processing. Smokers (n = 17) and non-smokers (n = 18) underwent fMRI while performing an emotional distractor oddball task in which rare targets were presented following negative and neutral task-irrelevant distractors. Smokers completed two sessions: once following 24-hour abstinence and once while satiated. The abstinent versus satiated states were compared by evaluating responses to distractor images and to targets following each distractor valence within frontal executive and limbic brain regions. Regression analyses were done to investigate whether self-reported negative affect influences brain response to images and targets. Exploratory regression analyses examined relations between baseline depressive symptoms and smoking state on brain function. Smoking state affected response to target detection in the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). During satiety, activation was greater in response to targets following negative versus neutral distractors; following abstinence, the reverse was observed. Withdrawal-related negative affect was associated with right insula activation to negative images. Finally, depression symptoms were associated with abstinence-induced hypoactive response to negative emotional distractors and task-relevant targets following negative distractors in frontal brain regions. Neural processes related to novelty detection/attention in the right IFG may be disrupted by smoking abstinence and negative stimuli. Reactivity to emotional stimuli and the interfering effects on cognition are moderated by the magnitude of smoking state-dependent negative affect and baseline depressive symptoms.
Project description:Despite the well-known role of the amygdala in mediating emotional interference during tasks requiring cognitive resources, no definite conclusion has yet been reached regarding the differential roles of functionally and anatomically distinctive subcomponents of the amygdala in such processes. In this study, we examined female participants and attempted to separate the neural processes for the detection of emotional information from those for the regulation of cognitive interference from emotional distractors by adding a temporal gap between emotional stimuli and a subsequent cognitive Stroop task. Reaction time data showed a significantly increased Stroop interference effect following emotionally negative stimuli compared with neutral stimuli, and functional magnetic resonance imaging data revealed that the anterior ventral amygdala (avAMYG) showed greater responses to negative stimuli compared with neutral stimuli. In addition, individuals who scored high in neuroticism showed greater posterior dorsal amygdala (pdAMYG) responses to incongruent compared with congruent Stroop trials following negative stimuli, but not following neutral stimuli. Taken together, the findings of this study demonstrated functionally distinctive contributions of the avAMYG and pdAMYG to the emotion-modulated Stroop interference effect and suggested that the avAMYG encodes associative values of emotional stimuli whereas the pdAMYG resolves cognitive interference from emotional distractors.
Project description:Cognitive aging may be accompanied by increased prioritization of social and emotional goals that enhance positive experiences and emotional states. The socioemotional selectivity theory suggests this may be achieved by giving preference to positive information and avoiding or suppressing negative information. Although there is some evidence of a positivity bias in controlled attention tasks, it remains unclear whether a positivity bias extends to the processing of affective stimuli presented outside focused attention. In two experiments, we investigated age-related differences in the effects of to-be-ignored non-face affective images on target processing. In Experiment 1, 27 older (64-90 years) and 25 young adults (19-29 years) made speeded valence judgments about centrally presented positive or negative target images taken from the International Affective Picture System. To-be-ignored distractor images were presented above and below the target image and were either positive, negative, or neutral in valence. The distractors were considered task relevant because they shared emotional characteristics with the target stimuli. Both older and young adults responded slower to targets when distractor valence was incongruent with target valence relative to when distractors were neutral. Older adults responded faster to positive than to negative targets but did not show increased interference effects from positive distractors. In Experiment 2, affective distractors were task irrelevant as the target was a three-digit array and did not share emotional characteristics with the distractors. Twenty-six older (63-84 years) and 30 young adults (18-30 years) gave speeded responses on a digit disparity task while ignoring the affective distractors positioned in the periphery. Task performance in either age group was not influenced by the task-irrelevant affective images. In keeping with the socioemotional selectivity theory, these findings suggest that older adults preferentially process task-relevant positive non-face images but only when presented within the main focus of attention.
Project description:Compassion meditation training is hypothesized to increase the motivational salience of cues of suffering, while also enhancing equanimous attention and decreasing emotional reactivity to suffering. However, it is currently unknown how compassion meditation impacts visual attention to suffering, and how this impacts neural activation in regions associated with motivational salience as well as aversive responses, such as the amygdala. Healthy adults were randomized to 2 weeks of compassion or reappraisal training. We measured BOLD fMRI responses before and after training while participants actively engaged in their assigned training to images depicting human suffering or non-suffering. Eye-tracking data were recorded concurrently, and we computed looking time for socially and emotionally evocative areas of the images, and calculated visual preference for suffering vs. non-suffering. Increases in visual preference for suffering due to compassion training were associated with decreases in the amygdala, a brain region involved in negative valence, arousal, and physiological responses typical of fear and anxiety states. This pattern was specifically in the compassion group, and was not found in the reappraisal group. In addition, compassion training-related increases in visual preference for suffering were also associated with decreases in regions sensitive to valence and empathic distress, spanning the anterior insula and orbitofrontal cortex (while the reappraisal group showed the opposite effect). Examining visual attention alone demonstrated that engaging in compassion in general (across both time points) resulted in visual attention preference for suffering compared to engaging in reappraisal. Collectively, these findings suggest that compassion meditation may cultivate visual preference for suffering while attenuating neural responses in regions typically associated with aversive processing of negative stimuli, which may cultivate a more equanimous and nonreactive form of attention to stimuli of suffering.
Project description:Emotionally arousing events are typically well remembered, but there is a large interindividual variability for this phenomenon. We have recently shown that a functional deletion variant of ADRA2B, the gene encoding the alpha2b-adrenergic receptor, is related to enhanced emotional memory in healthy humans and enhanced traumatic memory in war victims. Here, we investigated the neural mechanisms of this effect in healthy participants by using fMRI. Carriers of the ADRA2B deletion variant exhibited increased activation of the amygdala during encoding of photographs with negative emotional valence compared with noncarriers of the deletion. Additionally, functional connectivity between amygdala and insula was significantly stronger in deletion carriers. The present findings indicate that the ADRA2B deletion variant is related to increased responsivity and connectivity of brain regions implicated in emotional memory.
Project description:Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and ketamine treatment both induce rapidly acting antidepressant effects in patients with major depressive disorder unresponsive to standard treatments, yet their specific impact on emotion processing is unknown. Here, we examined the neural underpinnings of emotion processing within and across patients (N =?44) receiving either ECT (N =?17, mean age: 36.8, 11.0 SD) or repeated subanesthetic (0.5?mg/kg) intravenous ketamine therapy (N =?27, mean age: 37.3, 10.8 SD) using a naturalistic study design. MRI and clinical data were collected before (TP1) and after treatment (TP2); healthy controls (N =?31, mean age: 34.5, 13.5 SD) completed one MRI session (TP1). An fMRI face-matching task probed negative- and positive-valence systems. Whole-brain analysis, comparing neurofunctional changes within and across treatment groups, targeted brain regions involved in emotional facial processing, and included regions-of-interest analysis of amygdala responsivity. Main findings revealed a decrease in amygdalar reactivity after both ECT and ketamine for positive and negative emotional face processing (p <?.05 family wise-error (FWE) corrected). Subthreshold changes were observed between treatments within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and insula (p <?.005, uncorrected). BOLD change for positive faces in the inferior parietal cortex significantly correlated with overall symptom improvement, and BOLD change in frontal regions correlated with anxiety for negative faces, and anhedonia for positive faces (p <?.05 FWE corrected). Both serial ketamine and ECT treatment modulate amygdala response, while more subtle treatment-specific changes occur in the larger functional network. Findings point to both common and differential mechanistic upstream systems-level effects relating to fast-acting antidepressant response, and symptoms of anxiety and anhedonia, for the processing of emotionally valenced stimuli.
Project description:Biased attention towards emotional stimuli is adaptive, as it facilitates responses to important threats and rewards. An unfortunate consequence is that emotional stimuli can become potent distractors when they are irrelevant to current goals. How can this distraction be overcome despite the bias to attend to emotional stimuli? Recent studies show that distraction by irrelevant flankers is reduced when distractor frequency is high, even if they are emotional. A parsimonious explanation is that the expectation of frequent distractors promotes the use of proactive control, whereby attentional control settings can be altered to minimize distraction before it occurs. It is difficult, however, to infer proactive control on the basis of behavioral data alone. We therefore measured neural indices of proactive control while participants performed a target-detection task in which irrelevant peripheral distractors (either emotional or neutral) could appear either frequently (on 75% of trials) or rarely (on 25% of trials). We measured alpha power during the pre-stimulus period to assess proactive control and during the post-stimulus period to determine the consequences of control for subsequent processing. Pre-stimulus alpha power was tonically suppressed in the high, compared to low, distractor frequency condition, regardless of expected distractor valence, indicating sustained use of proactive control. In contrast, post-stimulus alpha suppression was reduced in the high-frequency condition, suggesting that proactive control reduced the need for post-stimulus adjustments. Our findings indicate that a sustained proactive control strategy accounts for the reduction in both emotional and non-emotional distraction when distractors are expected to appear frequently.
Project description:Borderline personality disorder (BPD) patients' hypersensitivity for emotionally relevant stimuli has been suggested be due to abnormal activity and connectivity in (para-)limbic and prefrontal brain regions during stimulus processing. The neuropeptide oxytocin has been shown to modulate activity and functional connectivity in these brain regions, thereby optimizing the processing of emotional and neutral stimuli. To investigate whether oxytocin would be capable of attenuating BPD patients' hypersensitivity for such stimuli, we recorded brain activity and gaze behavior during the processing of complex scenes in 51 females with and 48 without BPD after intranasal application of either oxytocin or placebo. We found divergent effects of oxytocin on BPD and healthy control (HC) participants' (para-)limbic reactivity to emotional and neutral scenes: Oxytocin decreased amygdala and insula reactivity in BPD participants but increased it in HC participants, indicating an oxytocin-induced normalization of amygdala and insula activity during scene processing. In addition, oxytocin normalized the abnormal coupling between amygdala activity and gaze behavior across all scenes in BPD participants. Overall, these findings suggest that oxytocin may be capable of attenuating BPD patients' hypersensitivity for complex scenes, irrespective of their valence.
Project description:Parenting is often implicated as a potential source of individual differences in youths' emotional information processing. The present study examined whether parental affect is related to an important aspect of adolescent emotional development, response to peer evaluation. Specifically, we examined relations between maternal negative affect, observed during parent-adolescent discussion of an adolescent-nominated concern with which s/he wants parental support, and adolescent neural responses to peer evaluation in 40 emotionally healthy and depressed adolescents. We focused on a network of ventral brain regions involved in affective processing of social information: the amygdala, anterior insula, nucleus accumbens, and subgenual anterior cingulate, as well as the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. Maternal negative affect was not associated with adolescent neural response to peer rejection. However, longer durations of maternal negative affect were associated with decreased responsivity to peer acceptance in the amygdala, left anterior insula, subgenual anterior cingulate, and left nucleus accumbens. These findings provide some of the first evidence that maternal negative affect is associated with adolescents' neural processing of social rewards. Findings also suggest that maternal negative affect could contribute to alterations in affective processing, specifically, dampening the saliency and/or reward of peer interactions during adolescence.