Biasing the perception of ambiguous vocal affect: a TMS study on frontal asymmetry

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Abstract

Several sources of evidence point toward a link between asymmetry of prefrontal brain activity and approach–withdrawal tendencies. Here, we tested the causal nature of this link and examined if the categorization of an ambiguous approach- or withdrawal-related vocal signal can be biased by manipulating left and right frontal neural activity. We used voice morphing of affective non-verbal vocalizations to create individually tailored affectively ambiguous stimuli on an Anger–Fear continuum—two emotions that represent extremes on the approach–withdrawal dimension. We tested perception of these stimuli after 10 min of low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation over left or right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or over the vertex (control), a technique that has transient inhibitory effects on the targeted brain region. As expected, ambiguous stimuli were more likely perceived as expressing Anger (approach) than Fear (withdrawal) after right prefrontal compared with left prefrontal or control stimulation. These results provide the first evidence that the manipulation of asymmetrical activity in prefrontal cortex can change the explicit categorization of ambiguous emotional signals.

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