Individual Differences in Cognitive Processing of Emotions During Perceptual Decision Making

People differ with regard to how they perceive, experience, and express emotions. Individual differences in processing of emotions affect even simple perceptual decisions on emotional stimuli. Using fMRI, we investigated how individual differences cognitive processing of emotions, (i.e., the ability to identify and communicate one's emotional state) influence perceptual decisions on facial expressions and which brain regions underlie these individual differences.

Individual difference in cognitive processing of emotions were assessed using a standardized questionnaire. We found that female subjects with difficulties in cognitive processing of emotions (alexithymia) showed increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) during gender decisions on faces with negative emotional expressions. However, there was no such increase in activity during emotion decisions on the same faces.

The dACC is associated with control processes and the integration of emotional and cognitive information. An increased activity in this region during gender decisions may reflect increased control processes, by which information irrelevant to the task (i.e., the emotional expression of a face) is suppressed in favor of information relevant to the task (i.e., the gender of the face). Moreover, we found task-dependent coupling of the left dACC with the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and amygdala, respectively, thereby supporting a theoretical model which posits that discommunication of the neocortex with limbic areas impairs cognitive processing of emotions.


Kovariation und Gehirntätigkeit

Dissertation Project

Katja Mériau