Anticipation of high arousal aversive and positive movie clips engages common and distinct neural substrates

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Abstract

The neural correlates of anxious anticipation have been primarily studied with aversive and neutral stimuli. In this study, we examined the effect of valence on anticipation by using high arousal aversive and positive stimuli and a condition of uncertainty (i.e. either positive or aversive). The task consisted of predetermined cues warning participants of upcoming aversive, positive, ‘uncertain’ (either aversive or positive) and neutral movie clips. Anticipation of all affective clips engaged common regions including the anterior insula, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus, caudate, inferior parietal and prefrontal cortex that are associated with emotional experience, sustained attention and appraisal. In contrast, the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex, regions implicated in reward processing, were selectively engaged during anticipation of positive clips (depicting sexually explicit content) and the mid-insula, which has been linked to processing aversive stimuli, was selectively engaged during anticipation of aversive clips (depicting graphic medical procedures); these three areas were also activated during anticipation of ‘uncertain’ clips reflecting a broad preparatory response for both aversive and positive stimuli. These results suggest that a common circuitry is recruited in anticipation of affective clips regardless of valence, with additional areas preferentially engaged depending on whether expected stimuli are negative or positive.

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