Liking and left amygdala activity during food versus nonfood processing are modulated by emotional context
Emotions can influence our eating behaviors. Facing an acute stressor or being in a positive mood are examples of situations that tend to modify appetite. However, the question of how the brain integrates these emotion-related changes in food processing remains elusive. Here, we designed an emotional priming fMRI task to test if amygdala activity during food pictures differs depending on the emotional context. Fifty-eight female participants completed a novel emotional priming task, in which emotional images of negative, neutral, or positive situations were followed by pictures of either foods or objects. After priming in each trial, participants rated how much they liked the shown foods or objects. We analyzed how brain activity during the contrast “foods > objects” changed according to the emotional context—in the whole brain and in the amygdala. We also examined the potential effect of adiposity (i.e., waist circumference). We observed a higher difference between liking scores for foods and objects after positive priming than after neutral priming. In the left amygdala, activity in the contrast “foods > objects” was higher after neutral priming relative to negative priming. Waist circumference was not significantly related to this emotional priming effect on food processing. Our results suggest that emotional context alters food and nonfood perception, both in terms of liking scores and with regard to engagement of the left amygdala. Moreover, our findings indicate that emotional context has an impact on the salience advantage of food, possibly affecting eating behavior.
KeywordsEmotional priming Eating Neuroimaging Amygdala Food cue reactivity
We thank all the participants for their collaboration in the study. We also thank Bettina Johst, Ramona Menger, and Nicole Pampus for technical support during the preparation of the study and data recruitment.
I.G.G. is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. M.G. is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant No. 13GW0206B). A.D. is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A.H. is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), Project No. 209933838–SFB 1052 and by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ: 01EO1501). J.N. was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ: 01EO1001). None of the authors declares a potential conflict of interest.
Open practice statement
The study was not formally preregistered. The analysis code and task-related materials are available in Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/v49ez/).
Whole-brain unthresholded T maps are available in NeuroVault Nutritional collection (https://identifiers.org/neurovault.collection:5964). The data set will be available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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