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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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The present study was undertaken to determine whether aversiveness contributes to startle potentiation in anticipation of affective pictures above and beyond the effects of emotional arousal. Further, participants high in trait anxious apprehension, which is characterized by worry about the future, were expected to show especially pronounced anticipatory startle responses. Startle blink reflex was measured during warning stimuli that predicted the valence of ensuing aversive/unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral pictures. Startle magnitude was larger in anticipation of aversive than of pleasant pictures and smallest in anticipation of neutral pictures. Enhanced startle potentiation was not found in anxious apprehension subjects. These data suggest that the aversive nature of stimuli contribute to the potentiation of startle above and beyond the effects of emotional arousal, which may be a universal phenomenon not modulated by individual differences.
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