Studying emotion theories through connectivity analysis: Evidence from generalized psychophysiological interactions and graph theory

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Psychological construction models of emotion state that emotions are variable concepts constructed by fundamental psychological processes, whereas according to basic emotion theory, emotions cannot be divided into more fundamental units and each basic emotion is represented by a unique and innate neural circuitry. In a previous study, we found evidence for the psychological construction account by showing that several brain regions were commonly activated when perceiving different emotions (i.e. a general emotion network). Moreover, this set of brain regions included areas associated with core affect, conceptualization and executive control, as predicted by psychological construction models. Here we investigate directed functional brain connectivity in the same dataset to address two questions: 1) is there a common pathway within the general emotion network for the perception of different emotions and 2) if so, does this common pathway contain information to distinguish between different emotions? We used generalized psychophysiological interactions and information flow indices to examine the connectivity within the general emotion network. The results revealed a general emotion pathway that connects neural nodes involved in core affect, conceptualization, language and executive control. Perception of different emotions could not be accurately classified based on the connectivity patterns from the nodes of the general emotion pathway. Successful classification was achieved when connections outside the general emotion pathway were included. We propose that the general emotion pathway functions as a common pathway within the general emotion network and is involved in shared basic psychological processes across emotions. However, additional connections within the general emotion network are required to classify different emotions, consistent with a constructionist account.

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