The functional neuroanatomy of visual processing of surface features of emotionally valenced pictorial stimuli was examined in normal human subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Pictorial stimuli were of two types: emotionally negative and neutral pictures. Task performance was slower for the negatively valenced than for the neutral pictures. Significant blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) increases occurred in the medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, midbrain, substantia innominata, and/or amygdala, and in the posterior cortical visual areas for both stimulus types. Increases were greater for the negatively valenced stimuli. While there was a small but significant BOLD decrease in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which was larger in response to the negatively valenced pictures, there was an almost complete absence of other decreases prominently seen during the performance of demanding cognitive tasks [Shulman, G. L., Fiez, J. A., Corbetta, M., Buckner, R. L., Miezin, F. M., Raichle, M. E., & Petersen, S. E. (1997). Common blood flow changes across visual tasks: II. Decreases in cerebral cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 648-663]. These results provide evidence that the emotional valence and arousing nature of stimuli used during the performance of an attention-demanding cognitive task are reflected in discernable, quantitative changes in the functional anatomy associated with task performance.

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