A direct comparison of appetitive and aversive anticipation: Overlapping and distinct neural activation

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fMRI studies of reward find increased neural activity in ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), whereas other regions, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and anterior insula, are activated when anticipating aversive exposure. Although these data suggest differential activation during anticipation of pleasant or of unpleasant exposure, they also arise in the context of different paradigms (e.g., preparation for reward vs. threat of shock) and participants. To determine overlapping and unique regions active during emotional anticipation, we compared neural activity during anticipation of pleasant or unpleasant exposure in the same participants. Cues signalled the upcoming presentation of erotic/romantic, violent, or everyday pictures while BOLD activity during the 9-s anticipatory period was measured using fMRI. Ventral striatum and a ventral mPFC subregion were activated when anticipating pleasant, but not unpleasant or neutral, pictures, whereas activation in other regions was enhanced when anticipating appetitive or aversive scenes.

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