Social cognition, including complex social judgments and attitudes, is shaped by individual learning experiences, where affect often plays a critical role. Aversive classical conditioning-a form of associative learning involving a relationship between a neutral event (conditioned stimulus, CS) and an aversive event (unconditioned stimulus, US)-represents a well-controlled paradigm to study how the acquisition of socially relevant knowledge influences behavior and the brain. Unraveling the temporal unfolding of brain mechanisms involved appears critical for an initial understanding about how social cognition operates. Here, 128-channel ERPs were recorded in 50 subjects during the acquisition phase of a differential aversive classical conditioning paradigm. The CS+ (two fearful faces) were paired 50% of the time with an aversive noise (CS upward arrow + /Paired), whereas in the remaining 50% they were not (CS upward arrow + /Unpaired); the CS- (two different fearful faces) were never paired with the noise. Scalp ERP analyses revealed differences between CS upward arrow + /Unpaired and CS- as early as approximately 120 ms post-stimulus. Tomographic source localization analyses revealed early activation modulated by the CS+ in the ventral visual pathway (e.g. fusiform gyrus, approximately 120 ms), right middle frontal gyrus (approximately 176 ms), and precuneus (approximately 240 ms). At approximately 120 ms, the CS- elicited increased activation in the left insula and left middle frontal gyrus. These findings not only confirm a critical role of prefrontal, insular, and precuneus regions in aversive conditioning, but they also suggest that biologically and socially salient information modulates activation at early stages of the information processing flow, and thus furnish initial insight about how affect and social judgments operate.
Recent evidence suggests that frontal brain electrical activity reveals asymmetries in activation in response to positive vs negative affective stimuli. This study was designed to evaluate whether this asymmetry is present at birth. Newborn infants were presented with water followed by a sucrose solution and then by a citric acid solution. Facial expression was videotaped during the presentation of the liquids and EEG was recorded from the frontal and parietal scalp regions on the left and right side. Usable EEG data were obtained from 16 newborn infants in response to these taste conditions. Videotaping of facial expression in response to these stimuli indicated the presence of disgust during both water (the first taste introduced) and citric acid. EEG was Fourier Transformed and power in the 1-3, 3-6 and 6-12 Hz bands was computed. The findings revealed that the water condition produced reductions in right-hemisphere power in the two higher frequency bands in both the scalp regions compared with the other two conditions. The sucrose condition produced greater relative left-sided activation in both regions compared with the water condition. These data, in conjunction with our previous findings of asymmetries in 10-month-old infants, indicate that stimulus-elicited affective asymmetries in brain electrical activity are present at birth.
Spatial working memory is a cognitive brain mechanism that enables the temporary maintenance and manipulation of spatial information. Recent neuroimaging and behavioral studies have led to the proposal that directed spatial attention is the mechanism by which location information is maintained in spatial working memory. Yet it is unclear whether attentional involvement is required throughout the period of active maintenance or is only invoked during discrete task-phases such as mnemonic encoding. In the current study, we aimed to track the time-course of attentional involvement during spatial working memory by recording event-related brain potentials (ERPs) from healthy volunteers. In Experiment 1, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task. Each trial began with the presentation of a brief stimulus (S1) that indicated the relevant location that subjects were to maintain in working memory. A 4.8-5.3 sec delay interval followed during which a single task-irrelevant probe was presented. The delay interval concluded with a test item (S2) to which subjects made a response indicating whether the S2-location was the same as the S1-memory location. To determine if attention was differentially engaged during discrete phases of the trial, task-irrelevant probes were presented early (400-800 msec following S1-offset) or late (2600-3000 msec following S1-offset) during the delay interval. Sensory-evoked ERPs (P1 and N1) elicited by these irrelevant probes showed attention-like modulations with greater amplitude responses for probes occurring at the S1-memory locations in comparison to probes presented at other locations. This pattern was obtained for both early- and late-delay probes. Probe-evoked activity during delayed-recognition trials was similar to activity observed when spatial attention was explicitly focused on a location in visual space (Experiment 2). These results are consistent with a model of spatial working memory in which perceptual level selective attention is utilized throughout the entire period of active maintenance to keep relevant spatial information in mind.
Recent neuroimaging and neuropsychological work has begun to shed light on how the brain responds to the viewing of facial expressions of emotion. However, one important category of facial expression that has not been studied on this level is the facial expression of pain. We investigated the neural response to pain expressions by performing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as subjects viewed short video sequences showing faces expressing either moderate pain or, for comparison, no pain. In alternate blocks, the same subjects received both painful and non-painful thermal stimulation. Facial expressions of pain were found to engage cortical areas also engaged by the first-hand experience of pain, including anterior cingulate cortex and insula. The reported findings corroborate other work in which the neural response to witnessed pain has been examined from other perspectives. In addition, they lend support to the idea that common neural substrates are involved in representing one's own and others' affective states.
Four experiments testing right-handed adult males examined interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT) estimation with visual evoked potentials (EPs) elicited in response to hemiretinal presentations of checkerboard-flash stimuli. Experiment 1 was a study of the relation between reaction time (RT) and EP measures of IHTT. EP measures provided more valid estimates than RT measures because more subjects showed IHTT in the direction of anatomical prediction. Experiment 2 showed that EPs derived from lateral occipital sites provided more valid and longer estimates of IHTT compared with EPs from medial occipital sites. Experiment 3 showed no difference between random versus blocked hemiretinal stimuli. Experiment 4 showed that IHTT derived with a linked-ears reference provided more valid estimates than IHTT derived with a mid-frontal reference and that small changes in stimulus eccentricity did not influence IHTT. The findings of these experiments indicate that noninvasive estimates of visual IHTT can be obtained in humans.