Neural effects of visualizing and perceiving aversive stimuli: a PET investigation

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CEREBRAL blood flow was recorded (using positron emission tomography) while middle-aged subjects viewed or visualized pictures of neutral or aversive stimuli, and then determined whether auditorily presented statements correctly described the stimuli. Visualizing aversive stimuli enhanced cerebral blood flow, relative to visualizing neutral stimuli, in areas 17 (right) and 18 (bilateral), as well as the anterior insula (bilateral) and middle frontal cortex (left). Areas 17 and 18 have been identified as supporting the representations that underlie the experience of imagery, and the anterior insula is a major cortical recipient of input from the autonomic nervous system. Perceiving aversive stimuli enhanced cerebral blood flow, relative to neutral stimuli, in area 46, the angular gyrus and area 19, area 47, and the middle temporal gyrus (all in the left hemisphere). All of these areas have previously been implicated in visual object identification. It is striking that negative emotion did not modulate activation in any areas in the same way during imagery and perception.

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