The influence of self-awareness on emotional memory formation: an fMRI study

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Evidence from functional neuroimaging studies of emotional perception shows that when attention is focused on external features of emotional stimuli (external perceptual orienting—EPO), the amygdala is primarily engaged, but when attention is turned inwards towards one’s own emotional state (interoceptive self-orienting—ISO), regions of the salience network, such as the anterior insula (AI) and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), also play a major role. Yet, it is unknown if ISO boosts the contributions of AI and dACC not only to emotional ‘perception’ but also to emotional ‘memory’. To investigate this issue, participants were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while viewing emotional and neutral pictures under ISO or EPO, and memory was tested several days later. The study yielded three main findings: (i) emotion boosted perception-related activity in the amygdala during both ISO and EPO and in the right AI exclusively during ISO; (ii) emotion augmented activity predicting subsequent memory in AI and dACC during ISO but not during EPO and (iii) high confidence memory was associated with increased amygdala–dACC connectivity, selectively for ISO encoding. These findings show, for the first time, that ISO promotes emotional memory formation via regions associated with interoceptive awareness of emotional experience, such as AI and dACC.

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