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The present study explored the effect of lateralized left-right resting brain activity on prefrontal cortical responsiveness to emotional cues and on the explicit appraisal (stimulus evaluation) of emotions based on their valence. Indeed subjective responses to different emotional stimuli should be predicted by brain resting activity and should be lateralized and valence-related (positive vs. negative valence). A hemodynamic measure was considered (functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, fNIRS). Indeed hemodynamic resting activity and brain response to emotional cues were registered when subjects (N = 19) viewed emotional positive vs. negative stimuli (IAPS). LIR (Lateralized Index Response) during resting state, LI (Lateralized Index) during emotional processing and SAM (Self-Assessment Manikin) rating were considered. Regression analysis showed the significant predictive effect of resting activity (more left or right lateralized) on both brain response and appraisal of emotional cues based on stimuli valence. Moreover, significant effects were found as a function of valence (more right response to negative stimuli; more left response to positive stimuli) during emotion processing. Therefore resting state may be considered a predictive marker of the successive cortical responsiveness to emotions. The significance of resting condition for emotional behavior was discussed. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.
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Resting lateralized activity predicts the cortical response
and appraisal of emotions: an fNIRS study
Michela Balconi,
1,2
Elisabetta Grippa,
2
and Maria Elide Vanutelli
1,2
1
Research Unit in Affective and Social Neuroscience and
2
Department of Psychology, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Largo Gemelli, 1,
20123, Milan, Italy
This study explored the effect of lateralized leftright resting brain activity on prefrontal cortical responsiveness to emotional cues and on the explicit
appraisal (stimulus evaluation) of emotions based on their valence. Indeed subjective responses to different emotional stimuli should be predictedby
brain resting activity and should be lateralized and valence-related (positive vs negative valence). A hemodynamic measure was considered (functional
near-infrared spectroscopy). Indeed hemodynamic resting activity and brain response to emotional cues were registered when subjects (N¼19) viewed
emotional positive vs negative stimuli (IAPS). Lateralized index response during resting state, LI (lateralized index) during emotional processing and self-
assessment manikin rating were considered. Regression analysis showed the significant predictive effect of resting activity (more left or right later-
alized) on both brain response and appraisal of emotional cues based on stimuli valence. Moreover, significant effects were found as a function of
valence (more right response to negative stimuli; more left response to positive stimuli) during emotion processing. Therefore, resting state may be
considered a predictive marker of the successive cortical responsiveness to emotions. The significance of resting condition for emotional behavior was
discussed.
Keywords: resting state; emotion; fNIRS; valence; lateralization
INTRODUCTION
Recent research has revealed that the processing of emotional visual
stimuli leads to increased activation of various cortical areas, including
the amygdala, the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the dorsolateral
prefrontal cortex (Davis and Whalen, 2001;Pessoa et al., 2002;Phan
et al., 2002). Although other cortical sites were found to be relevant in
emotional cue processing, in this research we focused on the prefrontal
area to test the direct effect of PFC and resting state in visual emotional
cue comprehension. Indeed more recent studies have identified the
PFC as a key region in the experience and regulation of emotional
responses, based on the lateralization effect (Damasio, 1996;
Davidson, 2002;Ochsner and Gross, 2005;Balconi et al., 2011;
Balconi and Bortolotti, 2012). In addition, recent results suggested a
significant and specific lateralization effect of PFC activation, based on
the positive (more directly processed by the left hemisphere) and the
negative (more directly processed by the right hemisphere) valences of
emotions (Everhart et al., 2003;Balconi and Mazza, 2010). The valence
model supposes that cortical differences between the two hemispheres
are attributable to positive vs negative valence of emotions (Silberman
and Weingartner, 1986;Everhart et al., 2003;Russell, 2003). Based on
the valence model, the right hemisphere is specialized for negative
emotions and the left hemisphere for positive emotions. However,
some other perspectives suggested a dichotomy on approach/avoid-
ance attitude to emotions, the first more frontal left-related and the
second more frontal right-related (Davidson, 1995;Harmon-Jones,
2003;Balconi and Mazza, 2009). Based on the approachwithdrawal
model of emotion regulation, the emotional behavior should be asso-
ciated with a balance of activity in the left and right frontal brain areas
that can be explained in an asymmetry measurement (Harmon-Jones
and Allen, 1997;Sutton and Davidson, 2000). Resting frontal asym-
metry, mainly measured by electroencephalography (EEG), has been
hypothesized to relate to appetitive (approach-related) and positive
and aversive (withdrawal-related) or negative motivation, with
heightened approach tendencies reflected in left-frontal activity and
heightened withdrawal tendencies reflected in relative right-frontal ac-
tivity (Balconi and Pozzoli, 2003;Balconi and Lucchiari, 2007;Stewart
et al., 2014).
In addition, according to the asymmetry hypothesis, the left/right
asymmetry of the PFC activity is correlated with specific emotional
responses to stressors and personality traits (Davidson et al., 2000;
Canli et al., 2001;Fischer et al., 2002). Indeed, EEG has demonstrated
that subjects with greater relative left PFC activity exhibited more
positive and less negative dispositional mood (Tomarken et al.,
1992) than their right-dominant counterparts. In contrast, right front-
ally activated subjects responded more to negative affective challenges
and less to positive affective challenges than their left dominant coun-
terparts (Wheeler et al., 1993). Two main models were adopted to
explain stable subjective asymmetries in brain activity within the fron-
tal areas: the dispositional model of frontal affective style, which pos-
tulates that people possess a general tendency to respond
predominantly with either an approach or withdrawal behavior despite
the situational differences (Davidson, 1998;Balconi and Mazza, 2010);
and the situational model, such as the capability model, which postu-
lates that individual differences are better represented as interactions
between the emotional demands of specific situations and the emo-
tion-monitoring abilities individuals use to respond to those situations
(Wallace, 1966;Lilienfeld et al., 2000;Coan et al., 2006). Moreover,
Harmon-Jones (2004) has argued that we may integrate the valence/
approach models to include both motivational and valence compo-
nents. Through the development and tests of competing hypotheses,
Harmon-Jones et al. (2004) have pursued the goal of specifying more
precisely what the emotional and motivational functions of asymmet-
rical frontal brain activity might be. They have identified a valence
model of brain asymmetry in which high levels of relative left frontal
activity are associated with the expression and experience of positive
emotions and high levels of relative right frontal activity are associated
with the experience and expression of negative emotions. In addition,
they identified a motivational direction model in which high levels of
relative left frontal activity are associated with the expression of ap-
proach-related emotions and high levels of relative right frontal activity
Received 14 December 2014; Revised 25 March 2015; Accepted 7 April 2015
Advance Access publication 9 April 2015
Correspondence should be addressed to Michela Balconi, Department of Psychology, Catholic University of the
Sacred Heart, Largo Gemelli, 1, 20123 Milan, Italy. E-mail: michela.balconi@unicatt.it
doi:10.1093/scan/nsv041 S C AN ( 2 015 ) 10, 16 07 ^1614
ßThe Aut hor (2015). Published by Oxford University Pre ss. For Permissio ns, please email: journals.permissio ns @oup.co m
are associated with the expression of withdrawal-related emotions.
Although positive emotions are typically associated with motivations
to approach and negative emotions are typically associated with mo-
tivations to withdraw, there are notable exceptions (for example anger-
out) (Amodio and Harmon-Jones, 2012;Harmon-Jones and van
Honk, 2012). In fact, whereas some negative emotional expressions,
such as anger and sadness, are generated by negative, aversive situ-
ations, these emotions may introduce some differences in subjective
response as a function of how people appraise their ability to cope with
the aversive situation (Frijda, 1993;Hewig et al., 2004).
Resting activity may contribute to assess the relevance of these
models, defining the role of personality in affective behavior, as a
predictive marker of the left- or right-asymmetry in specific emotion
processing. Indeed, it was observed that spontaneous brain activity
(explored by blood oxygen level dependent) was not just random
noise, but was specifically organized in the resting human brain
(for a review see Fox and Raichle, 2007). However, the role of resting
activity in emotional responsiveness was explored only partially.
Second, the impact of this resting activity for a successive lateralized
response to emotional tasks was scarcely considered. No previous
study has considered the direct relationship between resting activity
within the left and right PFC and the brain response to emotional cues,
also taking into account the explicit subjective evaluation of the sig-
nificance (in term of valence and arousal appraisal) of the emotional
cues.
In addition, neither the classical imaging (with fMRI) nor the elec-
trophysiological measure seems to completely describe the depth of
emotional context. Indeed, a methodological issue should be con-
sidered. Although studies have provided functional images of activated
areas of the brain associated with emotional tasks, they have seldom
addressed the temporal course of the activation. Due to its fast tem-
poral evolution and its representation and integration among complex,
widespread neural networks, emotion perception, together with its
neurobiological correlates, should preferably be examined by means
of imaging methods that offer good resolution in both temporal and
spatial domains.
Among the different modalities available for monitoring brain ac-
tivity, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is non-invasive and particu-
larly well suited for evaluating PFC activity, one of the regions involved
in emotional processing. Temporal resolution of NIRS is high enough
for measuring event-related hemodynamic responses. In addition,
some specific areas more directly related to emotional processing, i.e.
the frontopolar cortex and the anterior lateral PFC are easily accessible
for measurements by NIRS. For the reasons reported above, NIRS is
particularly suited to explore the emotional domain. Interestingly,
recent studies using NIRS investigating the neural correlates of emo-
tion regulation processes also described an activation of the PFC
(Hongyu et al., 2007;Hermann et al., 2008;Balconi et al., 2015).
Moreover, measurement of NIRS and EEG in a resting condition
demonstrated that an increase of oxy-hemoglobin (O2Hb) was asso-
ciated with an increase of neuronal activity whereas a decrease of
O2Hb was associated with a decrease of neuronal activity (Hoshi
et al., 1998;Butti et al., 2006).
In this study, we hypothesized that asymmetry of NIRS-measured
O2Hb changes at rest in the PFC may predict emotional response to an
experimental condition in which the subjects have to detect emotional
cues. Namely, resting activity might have a predictive value for the
successive subject’s activity in response to emotional stimuli. Higher
left activity at rest should be related to increased left activity in the
experimental condition, whereas higher right activity should be related
to increased right activity in the experimental condition.
Moreover, a specific valence effect should be found in the experi-
mental condition. Based on the approach/withdrawal model of
emotions (Russell, 2003), a significant and consistent higher prefrontal
left activation was anticipated for positive emotional stimuli, whereas a
consistent higher prefrontal right activation was expected in response
to negative stimuli (Balconi and Mazza, 2010).
Taking these suppositions together, related to resting and valence
effects, they may support the fact that subjective responsiveness to
different stimulus categories should be predicted by resting activity
and should be valence related. Therefore, we expected that a higher
left resting activity will support a higher cortical responsiveness within
the left hemisphere for the positive stimuli. In contrast, a higher right
resting activity will support a higher responsiveness within the right
hemisphere for the negative stimuli.
These two resting and experimental measures were then related to
the explicit self-report correlates, that is the subjective appraisal in
terms of valence (positive vs negative) by using self-assessment mani-
kin (SAM; Russell, 1980;Bradley and Lang, 1994;Cuthbert et al., 2000;
Balconi and Pozzoli, 2009;Balconi and Mazza, 2010;). Thus, in
addition to the relationship between resting and experimental cortical
responsiveness, brain activity at rest should predict the subjects’
explicit appraisal of the emotional cues that is a specific polarization
of the SAM rating based on the higher left/right resting activity is
expected.
METHODS
Participants
Nineteen subjects, 11 females and eight males (M age ¼29.61;
SD ¼5.38; range ¼2347) participated in the experiment. All subjects
were right-handed, with normal or corrected-to-normal visual acuity.
Exclusion criteria were neurological or psychiatric pathologies based
on responses to Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II; Beck et al., 1996),
for the subjects or immediate family. Also, the absence of documented
head injury was considered based on the subjects’ clinical history. They
provided informed written consent for participating in the study and
the research was approved by the Ethical Committee institution where
the work was carried out. The experiment was conducted in accord-
ance with the Declaration of Helsinki and all the procedures were
carried out with adequate understanding from the subjects, who read
and signed the Research Consent Form before participating in this
research. No payment was provided for their participation.
Stimuli and SAM
One hundred stimuli were chosen from the International Affective
Picture System (IAPS) (Bradley and Lang, 2007), depicting 40 pleasant
and 40 unpleasant pictures (20 low and 20 high arousing, each), and 20
neutral stimuli, previously validated on valence and arousal ratings
(Balconi et al., 2009). IAPS subjective ratings were obtained with the
SAM scale, using an easier adapted 5-point version (Bradley and Lang,
1994,2007). SAM is a non-verbal pictorial assessment technique that
directly (using an analogical scale showing a manikin) measures the
pleasure, arousal and dominance associated with a person’s affective
reaction to a wide variety of emotional stimuli. IAPS-selected stimuli
numbers were chosen from a total of over 900 stimuli: (i) pleasant and
low arousal; (ii) pleasant and high arousal; (iii) unpleasant and low
arousal; (iv) unpleasant and high arousal; (v) neutral (Table 1). Based
on IAPS dataset, the selected positive stimuli were classified as more
positive than the negative stimuli; the high arousal stimuli were clas-
sified as more arousing than low arousal stimuli. However, the positive
high arousal and the negative high arousal stimuli did not differ in
terms of arousal level (high for both of them). Similarly, the positive
low arousal and the negative low arousal did not differ in terms of
arousal level (low for both of them).
16 0 8 S C AN ( 2 015 ) M. Balconi et al.
After the experimental phase, subjects had time to rate their emo-
tional experience on SAM evaluating valence and arousal on a bipolar
scale applied to each picture (Bradley and Lang, 1994).
Procedure
A total of 180 s resting baseline was registered at the beginning of the
experiment before the picture series. We used this period as baseline
for the successive analysis. Participants performed resting eyes-closed
baseline periods. Each participant was instructed to relax and allow the
mind to disengage during these periods. Participants were seated in a
dimly lit room, facing a computer monitor that was placed 70 cm from
the subject. The stimuli were presented using STIM software (Stim
2
,
Compumedics Neuroscan, Charlotte, NC, USA) running on a personal
computer with a 15-in. screen. Participants were required to observe
each stimulus during functional NIRS (fNIRS) recording, and they
were asked to attend to the images during the entire time of exposition.
Pictures were presented in a random order in the center of a computer
monitor for 6 s, with an inter-stimulus interval of 12s. A familiariza-
tion phase was conducted, where subjects saw and rated five pictures
(one for each emotional category), different from those used in the
experimental phase (Figure 1).
Functional near-infrared spectroscopy
fNIRS measurements were conducted with the NIRScout System
(NIRx Medical Technologies, LLC. Los Angeles, CA) using a 6-channel
array of optodes (four light sources/emitters and four detectors) cover-
ing the prefrontal area. Emitters were placed on positions AF3AF4
and F5F6, while detectors were placed on AFF1AFF2 and F3F4.
Emitter-detector distance was 30 mm for contiguous optodes and
near-infrared light of two wavelengths (760 and 850 nm) was used.
NIRS optodes were attached to the subject’s head using a NIRS-EEG
compatible cup, with respect to the international 10/5 system
(Oostenveld and Praamstra, 2001).
With NIRStar Acquisition Software, changes in the concentration of
O2Hb and HHb were recorded from a 180-s starting baseline, using
the modified BeerLambert law. Signals obtained from the six NIRS
channels were measured with a sampling rate of 6.25 Hz, and analyzed
and transformed according to their wavelength and location, resulting
in values for the changes in the concentration of O2Hb and HHb
hemoglobin for each channel (Figure 2). Hemoglobin quantity was
scaled in mmol mm, implying that all concentration changes
depend on the path length of the NIR light in the brain.
The raw data of O2Hb, HHb from individual channels were digitally
band-pass filtered at 0.010.3 Hz. Then, the mean concentration of
each channel within a subject was calculated by averaging data
across the trials from the trial onset for 6 s. Moreover, in order to
analyze left/right asymmetry of PFC activity at rest, we calculated the
Lateralized Index Response (LIR, (right left)/(right þleft)) for the
selected channels for O2Hb (for this procedure see also Ishikawa
et al., 2014). The index provides values in the range of (1, þ1).
A positive LIR indicates that the right PFC is more active at rest
than the left PFC on average, while a negative LIR indicates that the
left PFC is more active at rest than the right PFC on average.
The cerebral blood oxygenation changes in the bilateral PFC were
continuously monitored by NIRS also during the experimental condi-
tion. The mean control values (baseline values) were subtracted from
the mean activation values (measured throughout task performance).
In order to determine left/right asymmetry of PFC activity during the
experimental task, we calculated a laterality index (LI) for the O2Hb
concentration changes ((right left)/(right þleft)). LI > 0 indicates
greater activity of the right PFC compared to left PFC, while LI < 0
indicates greater activity of the left PFC compared to right PFC (for
this procedure see also Ishikawa et al., 2014).
Data analysis
Analyses were conducted on the resting brain activity, the experimental
brain activity and the comparison between these two phases. To ex-
clude a priori gender effects, first a set of repeated measures ANOVAs
was applied to the dependent measures of LIR. A second set of
Fig. 1 Experimental setting during fNIRS recording.
Table 1 IAPS-selected stimuli numbers
Pleasant Unpleasant
Affective Low arousal 1604, 1610, 1620, 1670, 1812, 2206, 2312, 2399, 2490, 2491,
2304, 2360, 2370, 2388, 2501, 2520, 2590, 2722, 6010, 7054,
2530, 5010, 5201, 5551, 5631, 9000, 9001, 9045, 9090, 9110,
5760, 5779, 5811, 7325, 7340 9220, 9330, 9331, 9390, 9472.
High arousal 1650, 1710, 2208, 2216, 4220, 1019, 1120, 1201, 1525, 1932,
5470, 5621, 5628, 8030, 8034, 2683, 2703, 2811, 3022, 3170,
8080, 8185, 8186, 8200, 8251, 3500, 6230, 6313, 6350, 8485,
8341, 8370, 8400, 8490, 8500. 9254, 9300, 9410, 9433, 9910.
Neutral 1112, 1121, 1240, 1313, 1390, 1617, 1675, 1935, 1945, 1947,
2025, 2635, 2770, 2780, 2810, 4004, 5395, 6930, 7484, 9913.
Resting and brain activity during emotions SCAN (2015) 1609
repeated measures ANOVAs with three independent factors (two gen-
der two arousal two valence) was applied separately for the de-
pendent measures of LI and SAM. For all of the ANOVA tests,
degrees of freedom were corrected by Greenhouse-Geisser epsilon
where appropriate. Contrast analyses (paired comparisons) were
applied to significant main or interactions effects.
A successive set of regression analyses was applied to LIR (as pre-
dictor), LI and SAM (as predicted variables), to explore the effect of
resting activity on the experimental response for both brain activation
and appraisal process.
Lateralized index response
Statistical analyses were applied for both 02Hb and HHb concentra-
tions. According to the analysis, HHb was not significant, thus we
reported only results for 02Hb values. One-way ANOVA assessed the
gender effect on the dependent measure 02Hb. As shown by the ana-
lysis, no significant differences were found for gender (F(1,18) ¼1.87,
P¼0.092).
Laterality index
Three factor (two gender two arousal two valence) repeated meas-
ures ANOVA was applied to LI measure. The main effect of valence
(F(1,18) ¼9.78, P< 0.001) was significant. Indeed LI values were
higher (positive values, more right activity) for negative stimuli, and
lower (negative values, more left activity) for positive stimuli. In con-
trast, gender (F(1,18) ¼1.12, P¼0.38) and arousal (F(1,18) ¼0.87,
P¼0.66) main effects, and valence gender (F(1,18) ¼1.37,
P¼0.11), arousal gender (F(1,18) ¼1.98, P¼0.082) and gen-
der valence arousal (F(1,18) ¼1.03, P¼0.45) interaction effects
were not significant (Figure 3).
SAM ratings
Arousal and valence subjective ratings were analyzed with two separate
three factor (two gender two arousal two valence) repeated meas-
ures ANOVAs. For valence ratings, the valence main effect was signifi-
cant (F(1,18) ¼6.14, P< 0.001). Indeed negative valenced stimuli were
rated as more negative than positive stimuli (Figure 4). In parallel,
regarding arousal ratings, arousal main effect was significant
(F(1,18) ¼6.77, P< 0.001): low arousal stimuli were rated as lower
on arousal than high arousal stimuli. No other effect was statistically
significant (P> 0.481).
Regression analyses
Regression analyses were performed in each condition (positive vs
negative valence) for both LI and SAM variables. Results showed
that LIR accounted for the LI in response to negative stimuli
(R
2
¼0.58). Moreover, LIR also accounted for LI in response to posi-
tive stimuli (R
2
¼0.52). As shown by scatterplot (Figure 5a and b), LIR
increased values (higher right resting activity) were related to LI
increasing (higher right-activity), whereas LIR decreased values
(higher left resting activity) were related to LI decreasing (higher left
values). A similar trend was observed for SAM: indeed LIR explained
the SAM rating in response to both positive (R
2
¼0.57) and negative
(R
2
¼0.49) stimuli. As reported in the scatterplot, a significant increase
in SAM (more positive value) was related to a decreased LIR value
(more left resting activity), whereas a decrease in SAM (more negative
value) was related to increased LIR value (more right resting activity)
(Figure 6a and b).
DISCUSSION
This article aimed to explore the direct relationship between the later-
alized resting brain activity and the emotional cue processing within
the PFC. We found that the lateralization in resting state may predict
the successive lateralized brain response to emotional cues. A second
main result was related to the specificity of this relationship in terms of
the valence. Indeed we observed a significant impact of positive vs
negative cues in affecting, respectively, the left and right hemisphere
activations. As a consequence, we found that the higher left vs right
activity at rest was able to predict a specific increased lateralized (left
and right, respectively) brain activation during emotion processing in
response to the specific positive and negative emotions. Third, this
valence-related predictive role of resting brain activity also affected
the successive appraisal of emotional cues: indeed regression analysis
confirmed the impact of the resting state on subjects’ evaluation in
terms of positive vs negative attribution to emotions.
More specifically regarding the first result, in this study we evaluated
the asymmetry of the resting activity in the PFC in terms of LIR. We
found a significant relationship between the lateralized prefrontal ac-
tivity at rest and the lateralized activity of the same brain area in re-
sponse to emotional stimuli. Indeed LIR scores indicated that subjects
with more right-dominant activity at rest (positive values of LIR)
showed higher LI scores (more right activity), while those with left-
dominant O2Hb changes at rest (negative values of LIR) showed lower
LI scores (more left activity). In NIRS activation studies, changes of
Fig. 2 The locations of the measurement channels. The emitters were placed on positions AF3AF4
and F5F6, while detectors were placed on AFF1AFF2 and F3F4. Emitterdetector distance was
30 mm for contiguous optodes and near-infrared light of two wavelengths (760 and 850 nm) was
used. NIRS optodes were attached to the subject’s head using a NIRS-EEG compatible cup, with
respect to the international 10/5 system.
1610 S C AN ( 2 015 ) M. Balconi et al.
O2Hb during activation imply evoked changes of rCBF in response to
neuronal activation, since changes in O2Hb were correlated with
changes in rCBF (Hoshi et al., 2001). In addition, simultaneous meas-
urements of NIRS and EEG at rest demonstrated a relationship be-
tween O2Hb change and mean EEG peak frequency (Hoshi et al.,
1998). These observations indicate that changes of O2Hb concentra-
tion at rest measured by NIRS reflect neuronal activity at rest. We can
also suggest that the relationship we found between resting activity and
experimental response was not random and that the modulation found
at rest is predictive of the successive hemodynamic activity in the
brain. Indeed, as shown by regression analysis, the resting state activity
highly predicted the successive subjects’ responses to the emotional
cues. However, since in this research we used a compound index
(left or right higher activity as a function of the contralateral brain
activity) and no an absolute right vs left hemisphere activation, the
results we obtained should be considered as a measure which expresses
the balance between left or right brain activity and not an absolute
lateralization (absolute left/right prevalent activity) measure. Future
research should test more deeply the separate effect of the left vs
right hemisphere in both resting and experimental condition. In add-
ition it should be noted that the present results were related to 02Hb
modulation. In contrast we did not obtain a significant effect for HHb,
as shown by the statistical analysis. The reason why only one of the two
measures was effective in inducing significant results should be
explored in future research. However, based on the present data, we
may suggest that the two 02Hb/HHb measures which express the local
cerebral blood flow increasing (respectively related to higher and lower
values) may be not exactly two asymmetrical measures, as shown in
some previous research (Ferrari and Quaresima, 2012).
Interestingly, this effect was observed in a strong relationship with
the emotional stimuli category. Namely, regression analysis applied to
LIR and LI revealed that subjects with left (or right) prevalent PFC
activity at rest also exhibited left (or right) prevalent PFC activity
during the emotional processing and that this activity was responsive,
respectively, to the positive vs negative content of the emotional cues.
In other words, the predictive role of resting brain activity was not
indistinct but specifically related to the left vs right activation of the
Fig. 3 O2Hb concentration during resting brain activity: higher LIR values for negative (left figure), and lower values for positive stimuli (right figure).
-0.4
-0.3
-0.2
-0.1
0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
LIR
LI
negave valence
(a)
(b)
-0.6
-0.4
-0.2
0
0.2
0.4
0.6
-0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6
-0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6
LIR
LI
posive valence
Fig. 5 Scatter plot of LIR and LI while viewing negative (a) vs positive (b) stimuli.
0.00
0.50
1.00
1.50
2.00
2.50
3.00
3.50
4.00
4.50
5.00
Posi ve N ve low-arousal high-arousal
lasuoraecnelav
SAM values
*
*
Fig. 4 SAM rating as a function of valence and arousal features of emotional stimuli.
Resting and brain activity during emotions SCAN (2015) 1611
brain when a positive vs a negative emotional stimulus was processed.
Indeed, O2Hb increasing (more right activity) during the resting state
explained the successive greater right hemisphere response to negative
cues during the emotion processing. In contrast O2Hb decreasing
(more left activity) during rest supported greater left activity to posi-
tive cues.
As a direct consequence of these results, the restingactivation rela-
tionship was characterized by two main effects. First, a valence-related
lateralization effect was found. As shown by O2Hb increasing within
the right and the left hemisphere in response to different category
types, a significant difference was found based on valence of the sti-
muli, which was able to activate different cortical sides. PFC was found
to support this valence-related emotional cue processing. This result
confirmed previous research which found that PFC plays a crucial role
in the integration of different aspects of cognition, memory and emo-
tional regulation by managing the cognitive control over emotional
stimuli and emotional behavior (Knight et al., 1999;Hariri et al.,
2000;Miller and Cohen, 2001;Kalish and Robins, 2006;Balconi and
Ferrari, 2012).
Also the appraisal process was affected by this valence effect. Indeed
the explicit level of emotional cue processing (SAM rate) showed a
clear arousal- and valence-related dichotomy. Accordingly, we found a
significant polarization of judgment by the subjects as a function of
valence feature, using positive and negative dichotomy for both low-
and high-arousing categories. To explain this effect, as stated by Lang
et al. (1990), two motive systems may be proposed in the brain to
explain the model of valence. Appetitive and aversive/defensive stable
systems account for the hedonic valence and arousal evaluation in
emotional comprehension. The defensive system should be primarily
activated in negative contexts, with a basic behavioral repertoire built
on withdrawal, escape or attack. Conversely, the appetitive system is
activated in positive contexts that promote survival, sustenance and
nurturance, with a basic behavioral repertoire of ingestion and care-
giving (LeDoux, 1990;Fanselow, 1994;Davis and Lang, 2003;Balconi
et al., 2011).
This resting predictive value on brain response to emotions also
appears to suggest a second main explanation: the contribution of a
possible stable subjective component in emotional behavior and in
emotional responsiveness. Indeed the present results were consistent
with the valence asymmetry hypothesis where the left/right asymmetry
index of PFC activity was correlated with specific emotional responses
to personality traits (Davidson et al., 2000;Canli et al., 2001;Fischer
et al., 2002). Therefore, a main consequence of this ‘lateralization’, as
shown by resting brain activity, is that each subject has a specific ‘at-
titude’ in response to the emotional context. This trait is manifested in
both a main left or right hemispheric activation in the absence of a
specific task or emotional processing; and in sensitivity to more posi-
tive vs negative cues, as reported by the increased lateralized activation
and in the explicit appraisal. We may suppose that this personal atti-
tude successively affects the brain responsiveness (as revealed by LI)
and the conscious process of valence attribution (as revealed by SAM).
Furthermore, the present results were also consistent with the hy-
pothesis of a connection between bilateral frontal cortex activity and
behavioral activation; i.e. the behavioral activation system (BAS) and
the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) may be related to anterior asym-
metry (Hewig et al., 2006). Specifically, induced negative affect in-
creases relative right-sided PFC activation, while induced positive
affect elicits an opposite pattern of asymmetric activation (Tomarken
et al., 1992;Wheeler et al., 1993). Indeed, another main factor affecting
subject’s response to emotional stimuli was the subjective sensitivity to
the environmental emotional cues (Allen and Kline, 2004). The roles
that temperament and personality play in influencing emotional re-
sponses was confirmed by a great number of empirical studies, for both
normal and clinical samples (Heller, 1993;Everhart and Harrison,
2000;Mardaga et al., 2006). A prevalent view suggests that the bases
of the emotional construct correspond to two general systems for
orchestrating adaptive behavior (Gray, 1981;Carver and White,
1994). The first system halts ongoing behavior while processing poten-
tial threat cues and is referred to as BIS (Gray, 1990;Lang et al., 1990).
A second system is believed to govern the engagement of action and
has been referred to as BAS (Fowles, 1980;Gray, 1982). Empirical
evidence suggests that people with highly sensitive BAS may respond
in great measure to positive, approach-related emotions, such as the
expression of happiness and positive effect, that allow the subject to
have favorable behavior toward the environment (Davidson et al.,
1990;Tomarken et al., 1992).
Although the BIS/BAS model concerns behavioral regulation, re-
cently researchers have become interested in how these constructs
are manifested in individual differences and emotional attitudes.
Gray’s model has tried to explain the behavioral motivational re-
sponses in general and, second, the generation of emotions that are
relevant to approach and withdrawal behavior (Gray, 1981;Gray et al.,
1997). In a clinical context, patients with major depressive disorder
exhibited reduced left frontal EEG activity in the resting state com-
pared with normal controls, suggesting that asymmetry in PFC activity
at rest measured by EEG is correlated with the emotional state (Kemp
et al., 2010).
A second consequence is that, also in a clinical condition, the ‘un-
balance effect’ between left vs right activity may be predictive of patho-
logical conditions, as shown in the case of anxiety disorders. Indeed it
was found that an increased level of anxiety might be associated with a
dysfunctional increased activation of the frontal right-hemisphere in
resting condition or a reduced activation of frontal-left-hemisphere
(van Honk et al., 1999;Zwanzger et al., 2009). This model has fur-
nished clear evidence about the different behaviors induced by positive
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
SAM
LIR
negave valence
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
-0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6
-0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6
SAM
LIR
posive valence
(a)
(b)
Fig. 6 Scatter plot of LIR and SAM while viewing negative (a) vs positive (b) stimuli.
1612 S C A N ( 2 015 ) M. Balconi et al.
vs negative emotional stimuli in specific emotional tasks, supposing a
successively more right frontal hyperactivation for high-anxiety sub-
jects in comparison with the left side, inducing an unbalanced pro-
cessing of the two stimuli categories, with a consistent bias for the
negative one. Specifically, in line with the valence model, hypervigilant
attention was found to interfere with the high-anxiety subjects’ per-
formance, with a specific attentional bias (Eysenck, 1997).
However, future research should better explore the intrinsic rela-
tionship between personality traits, personality components and rest-
ing brain activity to better define the role personality has in affective
behavior. That is, future research may more directly test the relation-
ship between BIS/BAS construct and resting state, from one hand; and
between BIS/BAS and emotional cue processing as predicting by rest-
ing brain activity. Second, the lateralization effect we found for both
resting and activation condition should further be explored by other
cortical measures, such as EEG. Indeed the dynamic modulation of
emotional process could be better analyzed by integrating hemo-
dynamic and electrophysiological indexes. A critical point of the pre-
sent research was the exclusive focus on the prefrontal sites. Indeed we
considered the role of the resting of the PFC as impacting the succes-
sive emotional cue processing. Future research should extend the ana-
lysis to other cortical sites. Finally, a possible limitation of the present
study concerning the baseline period should be mentioned. Our base-
line period (3 min) was relatively short compared with that used in
other studies. However, the stable effect we found related to LIR may
suggest we adopted a significant time-window to compare resting state
with activation response.
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1614 S C AN ( 2 015 ) M. Balconi et al.
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