In life, we must often learn new associations to people, places, or things we already know. The current fMRI study investigated the neural mechanisms underlying emotional memory updating. Nineteen participants first viewed negative and neutral pictures and learned associations between those pictures and other neutral stimuli, such as neutral objects and encoding tasks. This initial learning phase was followed by a memory updating phase, during which participants learned picture-location associations for old pictures (i.e., pictures previously associated with other neutral stimuli) and new pictures (i.e., pictures not seen in the first phase). There was greater frontopolar/orbito-frontal (OFC) activity when people learned picture–location associations for old negative pictures than for new negative pictures, but frontopolar OFC activity did not significantly differ during learning locations of old versus new neutral pictures. In addition, frontopolar activity was more negatively correlated with the amygdala when participants learned picture–location associations for old negative pictures than for new negative or old neutral pictures. Past studies revealed that the frontopolar OFC allows for updating the affective values of stimuli in reversal learning or extinction of conditioning [e.g., Izquierdo, A., & Murray, E. A. Opposing effects of amygdala and orbital PFC lesions on the extinction of instrumental responding in macaque monkeys. European Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 2341–2346, 2005]; our findings suggest that it plays a more general role in updating associations to emotional stimuli.

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