Abstract

We recently demonstrated a functional relationship between fMRI responses within the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex based upon whether subjects interpreted surprised facial expressions positively or negatively. In the present fMRI study, we sought to assess amygdala–medial prefrontal cortex responsivity when the interpretations of surprised faces were determined by contextual experimental stimuli, rather than subjective judgment. Subjects passively viewed individual presentations of surprised faces preceded by either a negatively or positively valenced contextual sentence (e.g., She just found $500 vs. She just lost $500). Negative and positive sentences were carefully matched in terms of length, situations described, and arousal level. Negatively cued surprised faces produced greater ventral amygdala activation compared to positively cued surprised faces. Responses to negative versus positive sentences were greater within the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, whereas responses to positive versus negative sentences were greater within the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The present study demonstrates that amygdala response to surprised facial expressions can be modulated by negatively versus positively valenced verbal contextual information. Connectivity analyses identified candidate cortical–subcortical systems subserving this modulation.

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