Paying attention to emotion:

Abstract

In this research, we investigated the degree to which brain systems involved in ignoring emotionally salient information differ from those involved in ignoring nonemotional information. The design allowed examination of regional brain activity, using fMRI during color-word and emotional Stroop tasks. Twelve participants indicated the color of words while ignoring word meaning in conditions in which neutral words were contrasted to emotionally negative, emotionally positive, and incongruent color words. Dorsolateral frontal lobe activity was increased by both negative and incongruent color words, indicating a common system for maintaining an attentional set in the presence of salient distractors. In posterior regions of the brain, activity depended on the nature of the information to be ignored. Ignoring color-incongruent words increased left parietal activity and decreased parahippocampal gyrus activity, whereas ignoring negative emotional words increased bilateral occipito-temporal activity and decreased amygdala activity. The results indicate that emotion and attention are intimately related via a network of regions that monitor for salient information, maintain attention on the task, suppress irrelevant information, and select appropriate responses.

R.J.C. was supported by NIMH Institutional National Research Service Award MH19554, and this research was supported by the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and by NIH Grants R01 MH61358 and R21 DA14111. The research was carried out in collaboration with Carle Clinic Association in Urbana, IL.