Paul J Whalen

Paul J Whalen
Dartmouth College · Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

PhD, Professor

About

110
Publications
33,610
Reads
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23,479
Citations
Introduction
Skills and Expertise
Additional affiliations
July 1999 - July 2005
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Position
  • Professor (Assistant)
September 1995 - July 2005
Massachusetts General Hospital
Position
  • Professor (Assistant)
August 1987 - July 1993
University of Vermont
Position
  • PhD Student

Publications

Publications (110)
Preprint
Valence and arousal are psychological constructs that powerfully explain variance in brain function and behavior. However, different experimenters make different choices about how to implement and model experimental manipulations along these dimensions, as there are options when it comes to choosing theoretical assumptions regarding the nature of t...
Article
Although backward masking is a powerful experimental tool in mitigating visual awareness of facial expressions of emotion, ~20% of participants consistently report being resistant to its effects. In our previous studies, we excluded these participants from analysis as we focused on neural data in individuals who were subjectively unaware of backwar...
Article
Full-text available
Humanamygdala function has been traditionally associated with processing the affective valence (negative vs positive) of an emotionally charged event, especially those that signal fear or threat. However, this account of human amygdala function can be explained by alternative views, which posit that the amygdala might be tuned to either (1) general...
Article
Oversensitivity to uncertain future threat is usefully conceptualized as intolerance of uncertainty (IU). Neuroimaging studies of IU to date have largely focused on its relationship with brain function, but few studies have documented the association between IU and the quantitative properties of brain structure. Here, we examined potential gray and...
Article
Although it is possible to observe when another person is having an emotional moment, we also derive information about the affective states of others from what they tell us they are feeling. In an effort to distill the complexity of affective experience, psychologists routinely focus on a simplified subset of subjective rating scales (i.e., dimensi...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Amygdala plays an important role in fear and emotional learning, which are critical for human survival. Despite the functional relevance and unique circuitry of each human amygdaloid subnuclei, there has yet to be an efficient imaging method for identifying these regions in vivo. A data-driven approach without prior knowledge provides advantages of...
Article
Full-text available
Anxiety impacts the quality of everyday life and may facilitate the development of affective disorders, possibly through concurrent alterations in neural circuitry. Findings from multimodal neuroimaging studies suggest that trait-anxious individuals may have a reduced capacity for efficient communication between the amygdala and the ventral prefron...
Article
Full-text available
The structure of the mask stimulus is crucial in backward masking studies and we recently demonstrated such an effect when masking faces. Specifically, we showed that activity of the amygdala is increased to fearful facial expressions masked with neutral faces and decreased to fearful expressions masked with a pattern mask – but critically both mas...
Article
Full-text available
Valence is a principal dimension by which we understand emotional experiences, but oftentimes events are not easily classified as strictly positive or negative. Inevitably, individuals vary in how they tend to interpret the valence of ambiguous situations. Surprised facial expressions are one example of a well-defined, ambiguous affective event tha...
Article
Unpredictable environments can be anxiety-provoking and elicit exaggerated emotional responses to aversive stimuli. Even neutral stimuli, when presented in an unpredictable fashion, prime anxiety-like behavior and elicit heightened amygdala activity. The amygdala plays a key role in initiating responses to biologically relevant information, such as...
Article
Advances in the use of noninvasive neuroimaging to study the neural correlates of pathological and non-pathological anxiety have shone new light on the underlying neural bases for both the development and manifestation of anxiety. This review summarizes the most commonly observed neural substrates of the phenotype of anxiety. We focus on the neuroi...
Article
Full-text available
This study examined whether neural responses in the ventral striatum (VS) to in-group facial expressions—presented without explicit awareness—could predict friendship patterns in newly arrived individuals from China 6 months later. Individuals who ini- tially showed greater VS activity in response to in-group happy expressions during functional neu...
Article
Full-text available
It has long been suggested that feedback signals from facial muscles influence emotional experience. The recent surge in use of botulinum toxin (BTX) to induce temporary muscle paralysis offers a unique opportunity to directly test this "facial feedback hypothesis." Previous research shows that the lack of facial muscle feedback due to BTX-induced...
Article
Prefrontal cortex is involved in adapting our emotional response to setbacks. While we feel that some setbacks are controllable, others are not. Here, Bhanji and Delgado (2014) reveal the neural substrates of persistence in the face of controllable and uncontrollable setbacks.
Article
We previously demonstrated that fearful facial expressions implicitly facilitate memory for contextual events whereas angry facial expressions do not. The current study sought to more directly address the implicit effect of fearful expressions on attention for contextual events within a classic attentional paradigm (i.e., the attentional blink) in...
Article
Extant research has examined the process of decision making under uncertainty, specifically in situations of ambiguity. However, much of this work has been conducted in the context of semantic and low-level visual processing. An open question is whether ambiguity in social signals (e.g., emotional facial expressions) is processed similarly or wheth...
Article
The aim of this review is to show the fruitfulness of using images of facial expressions as experimental stimuli in order to study how neural systems support biologically relevant learning as it relates to social interactions. Here we consider facial expressions as naturally conditioned stimuli which, when presented in experimental paradigms, evoke...
Chapter
We begin this review by being clear that we will cover a small subset of what we know about emotion. Specifically, we begin by discussing the role of the amygdala in emotional responses during biologically relevant learning. In doing so, we focus on the human amygdala. We then connect this information to more classic measurements of emotional respo...
Article
The effects of regular exercise versus a single bout of exercise on cognition, anxiety, and mood were systematically examined in healthy, sedentary young adults who were genotyped to determine brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) allelic status (i.e., Val-Val or Val66Met polymorphism). Participants were evaluated on novel object recognition (NO...
Article
The dynamic interactions between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are usefully conceptualized as a circuit that both allows us to react automatically to biologically relevant predictive stimuli as well as regulate these reactions when the situation calls for it. In this review, we will begin by discussing the role of this amygda...
Article
Previous research suggests that neural and behavioral responses to surprised faces are modulated by explicit contexts (e.g., "He just found $500"). Here, we examined the effect of implicit contexts (i.e., valence of other frequently presented faces) on both valence ratings and ability to detect surprised faces (i.e., the infrequent target). In Expe...
Article
Full-text available
We examined whether amygdala responses to rapidly presented fear expressions are preferentially tuned to averted vs direct gaze fear and conversely whether responses to more sustained presentations are preferentially tuned to direct vs averted gaze fear. We conducted three functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to test these predictio...
Article
Full-text available
Facial expressions serve as cues that encourage viewers to learn about their immediate environment. In studies assessing the influence of emotional cues on behavior, fearful and angry faces are often combined into one category, such as "threat-related," because they share similar emotional valence and arousal properties. However, these expressions...
Article
Facial expressions of emotion constitute a critical portion of our non-verbal social interactions. In addition, the identity of the individual displaying this expression is critical to these interactions as they embody the context in which these expressions will be interpreted. To identify any overlapping and/or unique brain circuitry involved in t...
Article
Full-text available
Research at the interface of psychology, neuroscience, molecular biology, and genetics, focusing on the amygdala, has begun to reveal a rule book for emotional reactions. Variations in intrinsic and extrinsic factors tweak the sensitivity of the amygdala, giving rise to differences in behavior between individuals. At their most extreme, these varia...
Article
Anxiety is linked to compromised interactions between the amygdala and the dorsal and ventral medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). While numerous task-based neuroimaging studies show that anxiety levels predict amygdala–mPFC connectivity and response magnitude, here we tested the hypothesis that anxiety would predict functional connectivity between the...
Article
Low-spatial-frequency (LSF) visual information is processed in an elemental fashion before a finer analysis of high-spatial-frequency information. Further, the amygdala is particularly responsive to LSF information contained within negative (e.g., fearful) facial expressions. In a separate line of research, it has been shown that surprised facial e...
Article
Though a key symptom underlying many anxiety disorders is hypervigilant threat monitoring, its biological bases in humans remain poorly understood. Animal models suggest that anxious processes such as hypervigilant threat monitoring are distinct from cued fear-like responses and mediated by the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Here, we a...
Article
Full-text available
In this study, we compared the effects of using neutral face masks vs non-face pattern masks on amygdala activity to masked fearful faces. Twenty-seven subjects viewed 18 s blocks of either fearful or happy faces masked with either neutral faces or patterns, while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Result...
Article
The amygdala is responsive to fear-inducing stimuli as well as to stimuli that predict frightening events. Most of our interactions with the environment however do not call for acute emotional responses such as a full-blown state of horror. Instead, fear states live on a continuum, beginning with subtle fluctuations in vigilance and culminating in...
Article
Full-text available
Corrugator supercilii muscle activity is considered an objective measure of valence because it increases in response to negatively valenced facial expressions (angry) and decreases to positive expressions (happy). The authors sought to determine if corrugator activity could be used as an objective measure of positivity-negativity bias. The authors...
Article
Full-text available
Here, we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and showed that the strength of an axonal pathway identified between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex predicted individual differences in trait anxiety. A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) functional localizer that has been shown to produce reliable amygdala activation was collected in 20 ps...
Article
Full-text available
The amygdala is consistently implicated in biologically relevant learning tasks such as Pavlovian conditioning. In humans, the ability to identify individual faces based on the social outcomes they have predicted in the past constitutes a critical form of associative learning that can be likened to "social conditioning." To capture such learning in...
Article
Full-text available
The anticipation of adverse outcomes, or worry, is a cardinal symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. Prior work with healthy subjects has shown that anticipating aversive events recruits a network of brain regions, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. This study tested whether patients with generalized anxiety disorder have alter...
Article
Full-text available
Have facial expressions evolved randomly or do their different shapes support some adaptive purpose? New work offers evidence of a selection pressure that may have shaped fearful and disgusted expressions.
Article
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The current study examined the neural substrates of facial attractiveness judgments. Based on the extant behavioral literature, it was hypothesized that brain regions involved in identifying the potential reward value of a stimulus would be more active when men viewed attractive women than when women viewed attractive men. To test this hypothesis,...
Article
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) holds promise as a noninvasive means of identifying neural responses that can be used to predict treatment response before beginning a drug trial. Imaging paradigms employing facial expressions as presented stimuli have been shown to activate the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Here, we sou...
Article
Full-text available
Stimulation of the amygdala produces pupil dilation in animal and human subjects. The present study examined whether the amygdala is sensitive to variations in the pupil size of others. Male subjects underwent event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging while passively viewing unfamiliar female faces whose pupils were either unaltered (natu...
Article
The amygdala is clearly implicated in the processing of biologically relevant stimuli, particularly those that can lead to a state of fear. A new study by Herry, Bach and colleagues using both mouse and human subjects seemingly throws a wrench in the spokes by demonstrating that the amygdala is sensitive to non-biologically relevant stimuli (i.e. t...
Article
Previous neuroimaging research has shown diminished anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) function in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with most of these findings occurring in pregenual/subgenual ACC. This study investigates whether dorsal ACC (dACC) function is also diminished in PTSD. The authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study...
Article
Full-text available
Facial expressions of emotion represent a stimulus set widely used to assess a broad range of psychological processes. However, a consideration of systematic differences between expression categories, other than differences relating to characteristics of the expressions themselves, has remained largely unaddressed. By collecting experience rankings...
Article
Full-text available
Medial temporal lobe structures such as the hippocampus have been shown to play a critical role in mnemonic processes, with additional recruitment of the amygdala when memories contain emotional content. Thus far, studies that have examined the relationship between amygdala activity and memory have typically relied on emotional content of the kind...
Article
Full-text available
The counting Stroop is a validated Stroop task variant. Initially designed as a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task for identifying brain regions subserving cognition and attention (dorsal anterior midcingulate cortex (daMCC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)), it has been used to study cognition in healthy volunteers and to...
Article
Full-text available
The emotional counting Stroop (ecStroop) is an emotional variant of the counting Stroop. Both of these tasks require a motor response instead of a spoken response for the purpose of minimizing head movement during functional MRI (fMRI). During this task, subjects report, by button press, the number of words (1-4) that appear on a screen, regardless...
Article
We used fMRI to examine amygdala activation in response to fearful facial expressions, measured over multiple scanning sessions. 15 human subjects underwent three scanning sessions, at 0, 2 and 8 weeks. During each session, functional brain images centered about the amygdala were acquired continuously while participants were shown alternating block...
Article
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Previous functional neuroimaging studies have demonstrated exaggerated amygdala responses and diminished medial prefrontal cortex responses during the symptomatic state in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To determine whether these abnormalities also occur in response to overtly presented affective stimuli unrelated to trauma; to examine the f...
Article
Full-text available
We recently demonstrated a functional relationship between fMRI responses within the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex based upon whether subjects interpreted surprised facial expressions positively or negatively. In the present fMRI study, we sought to assess amygdala-medial prefrontal cortex responsivity when the interpretations of surpri...
Article
Full-text available
The amygdala was more responsive to fearful (larger) eye whites than to happy (smaller) eye whites presented in a masking paradigm that mitigated subjects' awareness of their presence and aberrant nature. These data demonstrate that the amygdala is responsive to elements of.
Article
Previous functional imaging studies demonstrating amygdala response to happy facial expressions have all included the presentation of negatively valenced primary comparison expressions within the experimental context. This study assessed amygdala response to happy and neutral facial expressions in an experimental paradigm devoid of primary negative...
Article
Here we show inverse fMRI activation patterns in amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) depending upon whether subjects interpreted surprised facial expressions positively or negatively. More negative interpretations of surprised faces were associated with greater signal changes in the right ventral amygdala, while more positive interpretatio...
Article
Different subterritories of anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and adjacent ventromedial frontal cortex have been shown to serve distinct functions. This scheme has influenced contemporary pathophysiologic models of psychiatric disorders. Prevailing neurocircuitry models of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) implicate dysfunction within pregenual A...
Article
As a prelude to future studies of subjects with different temperaments, we sought to develop a probe to measure differential amygdalar responses to novel versus familiar stimuli. Prior neuroimaging studies of the amygdala in humans to date have focused principally on responses to emotional stimuli, primarily aversive, rather than to novelty per se....
Article
Morphometric magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to compare regional brain volumes in eight women with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and eight healthy comparison subjects. The BDD group exhibited a relative leftward shift in caudate asymmetry and greater total white matter vs. the comparison group. Findings with respect to the caudate nucleu...
Article
Full-text available
Central nervous system habituation in humans was studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging and repeated presentations of single fearful and neutral faces. Habituation of blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) signal during exposure to face stimuli, collapsed over fearful and neutral expressions, was evident in the right amygdala and hip...
Article
Here we review human functional neuroimaging studies suggesting that the amygdala may play a key role in depression. We begin by reviewing animal and human data concerning the function of the amygdala. We then compare these results with those of neuroimaging studies of normal human amygdala function. Finally, we discuss functional neuroimaging stud...
Article
Several recent neuroimaging studies have provided data consistent with functional abnormalities in anterior cingulate cortex in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In our study, we implemented a cognitive activation paradigm to test the functional integrity of anterior cingulate cortex in PTSD. Eight Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD (PTSD Group)...
Article
Full-text available
Alterations in amygdala function have been implicated in the pathophysiological characteristics of adult anxiety and depressive disorders. Studies with healthy adults and children, as well as with adults who have amygdala lesions, have found facial expressions of emotion to be useful probes of amygdala activity. Our study examined the amygdala resp...
Article
Full-text available
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the human brain was used to compare changes in amygdala activity associated with viewing facial expressions of fear and anger. Pictures of human faces bearing expressions of fear or anger, as well as faces with neutral expressions, were presented to 8 healthy participants. The blood oxygen-level depen...
Article
The amygdala plays a central role in the human response to affective or emotionally charged stimuli, particularly fear-producing stimuli. We examined the specificity of the amygdala response to facial expressions in adults and children. Six adults and 12 children were scanned in a 1.5-T scanner during passive viewing of fearful and neutral faces us...
Article
Repeated presentations of emotional facial expressions were used to assess habituation in the human brain using fMRI. Significant fMRI signal decrement was present in the left dorsolateral prefrontal and premotor cortex, and right amygdala. Within the left prefrontal cortex greater habituation to happy vs fearful stimuli was evident, suggesting dev...
Article
In summary, contemporary pathophysiological models of OCD and related disorders implicate CSTC circuitry. In this chapter, we have reviewed relevant concepts related to implicit learning and more specifically, the use of an implicit sequence learning paradigm as a probe of striato-thalamic function. An initial PET investigation of patients with OCD...