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Neural activity of the anterior insula in emotional processing depends on the individuals' emotional susceptibility

Authors

  • Giuseppe Iaria,

    Corresponding author
    1. Human Vision and Eye Movement Laboratory, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
    • Human Vision and Eye Movement Laboratory, VGH Eye Care Centre, 2550 Willow Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada V5Z 3N9
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  • Giorgia Committeri,

    1. Sezione di Neuropsicologia e Laboratorio di Neuroimmagini, IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy
    2. Dipartimento di Scienze Cliniche e Bioimmagini, Università “Gabriele D'Annunzio”, Chieti, Italy
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  • Concetta Pastorelli,

    1. Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy
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  • Luigi Pizzamiglio,

    1. Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy
    2. Sezione di Neuropsicologia e Laboratorio di Neuroimmagini, IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy
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  • Kate E. Watkins,

    1. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
    2. FMRIB, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
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  • Antonio Carota

    1. CHUV Neurology Department, Lausanne, Switzerland
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Abstract

Differences in personality factors between individuals may manifest themselves with different patterns of neural activity while individuals process stimuli with emotional content. We attempted to verify this hypothesis by investigating emotional susceptibility (ES), a specific emotional trait of the human personality defined as the tendency to “experience feelings of discomfort, helplessness, inadequacy and vulnerability” after exposure to stimuli with emotional valence. By administering a questionnaire evaluating the individuals' ES, we selected two groups of participants with high and low ES respectively. Then, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate differences between the groups in the neural activity involved while they were processing emotional stimuli in an explicit (focusing on the content of the stimuli) or an incidental (focusing on spatial features of the stimuli, irrespectively of their content) way. The results showed a selective difference in brain activity between groups only in the explicit processing of the emotional stimuli: bilateral activity of the anterior insula was present in subjects with high ES but not in subjects with low ES. This difference in neural activity within the anterior insula proved to be purely functional since no brain morphological differences were found between groups, as assessed by a voxel-based morphometry analysis. Although the role of the anterior insula in the processing of contexts perceived as emotionally salient is well established, the present study provides the first evidence of a modulation of the insular activity depending on the individuals' ES trait of personality. Hum Brain Mapp, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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