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Concepts develop for many aspects of experience, including abstract internal states and abstract social activities that do not refer to concrete entities in the world. The current study assessed the hypothesis that, like concrete concepts, distributed neural patterns of relevant nonlinguistic semantic content represent the meanings of abstract concepts. In a novel neuroimaging paradigm, participants processed two abstract concepts (convince, arithmetic) and two concrete concepts (rolling, red) deeply and repeatedly during a concept-scene matching task that grounded each concept in typical contexts. Using a catch trial design, neural activity associated with each concept word was separated from neural activity associated with subsequent visual scenes to assess activations underlying the detailed semantics of each concept. We predicted that brain regions underlying mentalizing and social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to convince, whereas brain regions underlying numerical cognition (e.g., bilateral intraparietal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to arithmetic. The results supported these predictions, suggesting that the meanings of abstract concepts arise from distributed neural systems that represent concept-specific content.
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We present a novel data smoothing and analysis framework for cortical thickness data defined on the brain cortical manifold. Gaussian kernel smoothing, which weights neighboring observations according to their 3D Euclidean distance, has been widely used in 3D brain images to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. When the observations lie on a convoluted brain surface, however, it is more natural to assign the weights based on the geodesic distance along the surface. We therefore develop a framework for geodesic distance-based kernel smoothing and statistical analysis on the cortical manifolds. As an illustration, we apply our methods in detecting the regions of abnormal cortical thickness in 16 high functioning autistic children via random field based multiple comparison correction that utilizes the new smoothing technique.
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In rodents, theta rhythm has been linked to the hippocampal formation, as well as other regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). To test the role of the ACC in theta rhythm, concurrent measurements of brain electrical activity (EEG) and glucose metabolism (PET) were performed in 29 subjects at baseline. EEG data were analyzed with a source localization technique that enabled voxelwise correlations of EEG and PET data. For theta, but not other bands, the rostral ACC (Brodmann areas 24/32) was the largest cluster with positive correlations between current density and glucose metabolism. Positive correlations were also found in right fronto-temporal regions. In control but not depressed subjects, theta within ACC and prefrontal/orbitofrontal regions was positively correlated. The results reveal a link between theta and cerebral metabolism in the ACC as well as disruption of functional connectivity within frontocingulate pathways in depression.
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This article presents an overview of ways to think about the brain and emotion and consider the role of evolution and expression in shaping the neural circuitry of affective processing. Issues pertaining to whether there are separate unique neural modules hard-wired for emotion processing or whether affective processing uses more generalized circuitry are considered. Relations between affect and cognition--specifically, memory--are examined from the perspective of overlapping neural systems. The role of individual differences in neural function in affective style are discussed, and the concepts of affective chronometry, or the time course of emotional responding and emotion regulation, are introduced. Finally, the extent to which certain emotional traits can be viewed as trainable skills is considered, and the relevance of work on neural plasticity to the skill framework is addressed. Data from a variety of sources using different types of measures is brought to bear on these questions, including neuroimaging and psychophysiological measures, studies of individuals of different ages ranging from early childhood to old age, studies of nonhuman primates, and observations of patients with localized brain damage. Emotions are viewed as varying in both type and dimension. Honoring brain circuitry in parsing the domain of affects will result in distinctions and differentiations that are not currently incorporated in traditional classification schemes.
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<p>Depression is a disorder of the representation and regulation of mood and emotion. The circuitry underlying the representation and regulation of normal emotion and mood is reviewed, including studies at the animal level, human lesion studies, and human brain imaging studies. This corpus of data is used to construct a model of the ways in which affect can become disordered in depression. Research on the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, and amygdala is reviewed and abnormalities in the structure and function of these different regions in depression is considered. The review concludes with proposals for the specific types of processing abnormalities that result from dysfunctions in different parts of this circuitry and offers suggestions for the major themes upon which future research in this area should be focused.</p>
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Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.
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This study investigated differences in brain activation during meditation between meditators and non-meditators. Fifteen Vipassana meditators (mean practice: 7.9 years, 2 h daily) and fifteen non-meditators, matched for sex, age, education, and handedness, participated in a block-design fMRI study that included mindfulness of breathing and mental arithmetic conditions. For the meditation condition (contrasted to arithmetic), meditators showed stronger activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex bilaterally, compared to controls. Greater rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation in meditators may reflect stronger processing of distracting events. The increased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex may reflect that meditators are stronger engaged in emotional processing.

Although empathy is crucial for successful social interactions, excessive sharing of others’ negative emotions may be maladaptive and constitute a source of burnout. To investigate functional neural plasticity underlying the augmentation of empathy and to test the counteracting potential of compassion, one group of participants was first trained in empathic resonance and subsequently in compassion. In response to videos depicting human suffering, empathy training, but not memory training (control group), increased negative affect and brain activations in anterior insula and anterior midcingulate cortex—brain regions previously associated with empathy for pain. In contrast, subsequent compassion training could reverse the increase in negative effect and, in contrast, augment self-reports of positive affect. In addition, compassion training increased activations in a non-overlapping brain network spanning ventral striatum, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and medial orbitofrontal cortex. We conclude that training compassion may reflect a new coping strategy to overcome empathic distress and strengthen resilience.
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Facial expression, EEG, and self-report of subjective emotional experience were recorded while subjects individually watched both pleasant and unpleasant films. Smiling in which the muscle that orbits the eye is active in addition to the muscle that pulls the lip corners up (the Duchenne smile) was compared with other smiling in which the muscle orbiting the eye was not active. As predicted, the Duchenne smile was related to enjoyment in terms of occurring more often during the pleasant than the unpleasant films, in measures of cerebral asymmetry, and in relation to subjective reports of positive emotions, and other smiling was not.
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Individual variation in the experience and expression of pleasure may relate to differential patterns of lateral frontal activity. Brain electrical measures have been used to study the asymmetric involvement of lateral frontal cortex in positive emotion, but the excellent time resolution of these measures has not been used to capture second-by-second changes in ongoing emotion until now. The relationship between pleasure and second-by-second lateral frontal activity was examined with the use of hierarchical linear modeling in a sample of 128 children ages 6-10 years. Electroencephalographic activity was recorded during "pop-out toy," a standardized task that elicits pleasure. The task consisted of 3 epochs: an anticipation period sandwiched between 2 play periods. The amount of pleasure expressed during the task predicted the pattern of nonlinear change in lateral frontal activity. Children who expressed increasing amounts of pleasure during the task exhibited increasing left lateral frontal activity during the task, whereas children who expressed contentment exhibited increasing right/decreasing left activity. These findings indicate that task-dependent changes in pleasure relate to dynamic, nonlinear changes in lateral frontal activity as the task unfolds.
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Cognitive deficits have been reported in children who experienced early neglect, especially children raised in institutionalized settings. Previous research suggests that early neglect may differentially affect the directional organization of white matter in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This may be one mechanism to explain cognitive deficits associated with neglect. To test this idea, properties of white matter and neurocognitive performance were assessed in children who suffered early neglect and those raised in typical environments (n = 63, Mage  = 11.75 years). As predicted, prefrontal white matter microstructure was affected, consistent with more diffuse organization, in children that suffered early neglect and this was related to neurocognitive deficits. Such findings underscore how early adversity may affect the PFC and explain cognitive deficits associated with neglect.
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An overview of the use of EEG to assess hemispheric differences in cognitive and affective processes is presented. Some of the advantages of using EEG to assess asymmetric hemispheric differences in the study of complex mental activity are described. Following this brief introduction, two conceptual issues which are central to studies of EEG asymmetries are introduced: (1) the distinction between hemispheric specialization and activation, and (2) the importance of rostral-caudal differences for the understanding of both specialization and activation. Three methodological issues in the use of EEG to assess hemispheric differences are then presented: (1) the use of asymmetry metrics, (2) muscle artifact, and (3) appropriate reference electrode location. Finally, some empirical examples of using EEG to assess affective and cognitive processes which illustrate these conceptual and methodological issues are described.
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During selective attention, ∼7–14 Hz alpha rhythms are modulated in early sensory cortices, suggesting a mechanistic role for these dynamics in perception. Here, we investigated whether alpha modulation can be enhanced by “mindfulness” meditation (MM), a program training practitioners in sustained attention to body and breath-related sensations. We hypothesized that participants in the MM group would exhibit enhanced alpha power modulation in a localized representation in the primary somatosensory neocortex in response to a cue, as compared to participants in the control group. Healthy subjects were randomized to 8-weeks of MM training or a control group. Using magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recording of the SI finger representation, we found meditators demonstrated enhanced alpha power modulation in response to a cue. This finding is the first to show enhanced local alpha modulation following sustained attentional training, and implicates this form of enhanced dynamic neural regulation in the behavioral effects of meditative practice.
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<p>In two prior studies, we investigated the neural mechanisms of spatial attention using a combined event-related potential (ERP) and positron emission tomography (PET) approach (Heinze et al. [1994]: Nature 392:543-546; Mangun et al. [1997]: Hum Brain Mapp 5:273-279). Neural activations in extrastriate cortex were observed in the PET measures for attended stimuli, and these effects were related to attentional modulations in the ERPs at specific latencies. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and ERPs in single subjects to investigate the intersubject variability in extrastriate spatial attention effects, and to qualitatively compare this to variations in ERP attention effects. Activations in single subjects replicated our prior group-averaged PET findings, showing attention-related increases in blood flow in the posterior fusiform and middle occipital gyri in the hemisphere contralateral to attended visual stimuli. All subjects showed attentional modulations of the occipital P1 component of the ERPs. These findings in single subjects demonstrate the consistency of extrastriate attention effects, and provide information about the feasibility of this approach for integration of electrical and functional imaging data.</p>
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Although depressed mood is a normal occurrence in response to adversity in all individuals, what distinguishes those who are vulnerable to major depressive disorder (MDD) is their inability to effectively regulate negative mood when it arises. Investigating the neural underpinnings of adaptive emotion regulation and the extent to which such processes are compromised in MDD may be helpful in understanding the pathophysiology of depression. We report results from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study demonstrating left-lateralized activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when downregulating negative affect in nondepressed individuals, whereas depressed individuals showed bilateral PFC activation. Furthermore, during an effortful affective reappraisal task, nondepressed individuals showed an inverse relationship between activation in left ventrolateral PFC and the amygdala that is mediated by the ventromedial PFC (VMPFC). No such relationship was found for depressed individuals, who instead show a positive association between VMPFC and amygdala. Pupil dilation data suggest that those depressed patients who expend more effort to reappraise negative stimuli are characterized by accentuated activation in the amygdala, insula, and thalamus, whereas nondepressed individuals exhibit the opposite pattern. These findings indicate that a key feature underlying the pathophysiology of major depression is the counterproductive engagement of right prefrontal cortex and the lack of engagement of left lateral-ventromedial prefrontal circuitry important for the downregulation of amygdala responses to negative stimuli.
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This study examined neural activation during the experience of compassion, an emotion that orients people toward vulnerable others and prompts caregiving, and pride, a self-focused emotion that signals individual strength and heightened status. Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) were acquired as participants viewed 55 s continuous sequences of slides to induce either compassion or pride, presented in alternation with sequences of neutral slides. Emotion self-report data were collected after each slide condition within the fMRI scanner. Compassion induction was associated with activation in the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG), a region that is activated during pain and the perception of others’ pain, and that has been implicated in parental nurturance behaviors. Pride induction engaged the posterior medial cortex, a region that has been associated with self-referent processing. Self-reports of compassion experience were correlated with increased activation in a region near the PAG, and in the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Self-reports of pride experience, in contrast, were correlated with reduced activation in the IFG and the anterior insula. These results provide preliminary evidence towards understanding the neural correlates of important interpersonal dimensions of compassion and pride. Caring (compassion) and self-focus (pride) may represent core appraisals that differentiate the response profiles of many emotions.
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High vs. low scorers on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) were compared on measures of resting EEG activation asymmetry from frontal and parietal brain regions. Depressed subjects showed greater relative right frontal activation compared with nondepressed subjects. Parietal asymmetry did not distinguish between the groups. These data support the hypothesis of right hemisphere hyperactivation in the frontal region of depressed individuals and are consistent with the growing body of literature which suggests that the left and right frontal regions may be differentially specialized for particular positive and negative affects.
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We assessed whether resting anterior asymmetry would discriminate individual differences in repressive-defensive coping styles. In 2 sessions, resting electroencephalogram was recorded from female adults during 8 60-s baselines. Subjects were classified as repressors or nonrepressors on the basis of scores on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MC), the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). In midfrontal and lateral frontal sites, repressors demonstrated relative left hemisphere activation when compared with other groups. The MC, but not the STAI or the BDI, contributed unique variance to frontal asymmetry. Relative left frontal activation may be linked to a self-enhancing regulatory style that promotes lowered risk for psychopathology.
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Individuals differ dramatically in the quality and intensity of their response to affectively evocative stimuli. On the basis of prior theory and research, we hypothesized that these individual differences are related to variation in activation of the left and right frontal brain regions. We recorded baseline brain electrical activity from subjects on two occasions 3 weeks apart. Immediately following the second recording, subjects were exposed to brief positive and negative emotional film clips. For subjects whose frontal asymmetry was stable across the 3-week period, greater left frontal activation was associated with reports of more intense positive affect in response to the positive films, whereas greater right frontal activation was associated with more intense reports of negative affect in response to the negative film clips. The methodological and theoretical implications of these data are discussed.
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The relation between brain activity and the immune system was evaluated by assessing immune responses in 20 healthy women who manifested extreme differences in the asymmetry of frontal cortex activation. One group showed extreme and stable left frontal activation; the other group showed extreme and stable right frontal activation. As predicted, women with extreme right frontal activation had significantly lower levels of natural killer cell activity (at effector:target cell ratios of 33:1 and 11:1) than did left frontally activated individuals. This difference did not extend to two other immune measures, lymphocyte proliferation and T-cell subsets. However, higher immunoglobulin levels of the M class were observed in the right frontal group. In this study, the immune patterns could not be accounted for by plasma cortisol levels, anxiety- and depression-related symptomatology, or recent health histories. These findings support the hypothesis that there is a specific association between frontal brain asymmetry and certain immune responses.
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The influence of approach and avoidance tendencies on affect, reasoning, and behavior has attracted substantial interest from researchers across various areas of psychology. Currently, frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry in favor of left prefrontal regions is assumed to reflect the propensity to respond with approach-related tendencies. To test this hypothesis, we recorded resting EEG in 18 subjects, who separately performed a verbal memory task under three incentive conditions (neutral, reward, and punishment). Using a source-localization technique, we found that higher task-independent alpha2 (10.5-12 Hz) activity within left dorsolateral prefrontal and medial orbitofrontal regions was associated with stronger bias to respond to reward-related cues. Left prefrontal resting activity accounted for 54.8% of the variance in reward bias. These findings not only confirm that frontal EEG asymmetry modulates the propensity to engage in appetitively motivated behavior, but also provide anatomical details about the underlying brain systems.
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Major depression is a heterogeneous condition, and the search for neural correlates specific to clinically defined subtypes has been inconclusive. Theoretical considerations implicate frontostriatal, particularly subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC), dysfunction in the pathophysiology of melancholia--a subtype of depression characterized by anhedonia--but no empirical evidence has been found yet for such a link. To test the hypothesis that melancholic, but not nonmelancholic depression, is associated with the subgenual PFC impairment, concurrent measurement of brain electrical (electroencephalogram, EEG) and metabolic (positron emission tomography, PET) activity were obtained in 38 unmedicated subjects with DSM-IV major depressive disorder (20 melancholic, 18 nonmelancholic subjects), and 18 comparison subjects. EEG data were analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computed the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard frequency bands, allowing voxelwise correlations between the EEG and PET data. Voxel-based morphometry analyses of structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were performed to assess potential structural abnormalities in melancholia. Melancholia was associated with reduced activity in the subgenual PFC (Brodmann area 25), manifested by increased inhibitory delta activity (1.5-6.0 Hz) and decreased glucose metabolism, which themselves were inversely correlated. Following antidepressant treatment, depressed subjects with the largest reductions in depression severity showed the lowest post-treatment subgenual PFC delta activity. Analyses of structural MRI revealed no group differences in the subgenual PFC, but in melancholic subjects, a negative correlation between gray matter density and age emerged. Based on preclinical evidence, we suggest that subgenual PFC dysfunction in melancholia may be associated with blunted hedonic response and exaggerated stress responsiveness.
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<p>BACKGROUND: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques were used to identify the neural circuitry underlying emotional processing in control and depressed subjects. Depressed subjects were studied before and after treatment with venlafaxine. This new technique provides a method to noninvasively image regional brain function with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. METHOD: Echo-planar imaging was used to acquire whole brain images while subjects viewed positively and negatively valenced visual stimuli. Two control subjects and two depressed subjects who met DSM-IV criteria for major depression were scanned at baseline and 2 weeks later. Depressed subjects were treated with venlafaxine after the baseline scan. RESULTS: Preliminary results from this ongoing study revealed three interesting trends in the data. Both depressed patients demonstrated considerable symptomatic improvement at the time of the second scan. Across control and depressed subjects, the negative compared with the positive pictures elicited greater global activation. In both groups, activation induced by the negative pictures decreased from the baseline scan to the 2-week scan. This decrease in activation was also present in the control subjects when they were exposed to the positive pictures. In contrast, when the depressed subjects were presented with the positive pictures they showed no activation at baseline, whereas after 2 weeks of treatment an area of activation emerged in right secondary visual cortex. CONCLUSION: While preliminary, these results demonstrate the power of using fMRI to study emotional processes in normal and depressed subjects and to examine mechanisms of action of antidepressant drugs.</p>
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The capacity to anticipate aversive circumstances is central not only to successful adaptation but also to understanding the abnormalities that contribute to excessive worry and anxiety disorders. Forecasting and reacting to aversive events mobilize a host of affective and cognitive capacities and corresponding brain processes. Rapid event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 21 healthy volunteers assessed the overlap and divergence in the neural instantiation of anticipating and being exposed to aversive pictures. Brain areas jointly activated by the anticipation of and exposure to aversive pictures included the dorsal amygdala, anterior insula, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and right posterior orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Anticipatory processes were uniquely associated with activations in rostral ACC, a more superior sector of the right DLPFC, and more medial sectors of the bilateral OFC. Activation of the right DLPFC in anticipation of aversion was associated with self-reports of increased negative affect, whereas OFC activation was associated with increases in both positive and negative affect. These results show that anticipation of aversion recruits key brain regions that respond to aversion, thereby potentially enhancing adaptive responses to aversive events.
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