, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 110-126

Processing emotional pictures and words: Effects of valence and arousal


There is considerable debate regarding the extent to which limbic regions respond differentially to items with different valences (positive or negative) or to different stimulus types (pictures or words). In the present event-related fMRI study, 21 participants viewed words and pictures that were neutral, negative, or positive. Negative and positive items were equated on arousal. The participants rated each item for whether it depicted or described something animate or inanimate or something common or uncommon. For both pictures and words, the amygdala, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (PFC), and ventromedial PFC responded equally to all high-arousal items, regardless of valence. Laterality effects in the amygdala were based on the stimulus type (word 5 left, picture 5 bilateral). Valence effects were most apparent when the individuals processed pictures, and the results revealed a lateral/medial distinction within the PFC: The lateral PFC responded differentially to negative items, whereas the medial PFC was more engaged during the processing of positive pictures.