Attention to aversive emotion and specific activation of the right insula and right somatosensory cortex
The evaluation of emotional stimuli is based on different levels of information processing, ranging from rather automatic processes to focused attention to the emotional relevance of stimuli. The role of specific brain areas for these processes is a matter of debate. In this event-related fMRI study, we varied the information processing mode of participants exposed to aversive and neutral pictures. Based on four different tasks, participants' attentional focus onto the emotional quality of the stimuli and the own emotional involvement was increased systematically across tasks. Regardless of task, stronger activation to threatening vs. neutral pictures was found in several regions such as the amygdala, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, primary somatosensory cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. However, there was a parametric increase of activation with increasing attention to one's own emotion specifically in the right posterior insula and right primary and secondary somatosensory cortex, i.e. in areas implicated in self-awareness of a person's own body. These findings are in accordance with theories suggesting a crucial role of the perception of bodily states for emotional experiences.
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