DIFFICULTY IDENTIFYING FEELINGS AND AUTOMATIC ACTIVATION IN THE FUSIFORM GYRUS IN RESPONSE TO FACIAL EMOTION1

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Abstract

Difficulties in identifying and differentiating one's emotions are a central characteristic of alexithymia. In the present study, automatic activation of the fusiform gyrus to facial emotion was investigated as a function of alexithymia as assessed by the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale. During 3 Tesla fMRI scanning, pictures of faces bearing sad, happy, and neutral expressions masked by neutral faces were presented to 22 healthy adults who also responded to the Toronto Alexithymia Scale. The fusiform gyrus was selected as the region of interest, and voxel values of this region were extracted, summarized as means, and tested among the different conditions (sad, happy, and neutral faces). Masked sad facial emotions were associated with greater bilateral activation of the fusiform gyrus than masked neutral faces. The subscale, Difficulty Identifying Feelings, was negatively correlated with the neural response of the fusiform gyrus to masked sad faces. The correlation results suggest that automatic hyporesponsiveness of the fusiform gyrus to negative emotion stimuli may reflect problems in recognizing one's emotions in everyday life.

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