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Keywords:

  • affective value;
  • biased competition;
  • emotion;
  • fMRI;
  • insula;
  • orbitofrontal cortex;
  • pregenual cingulate cortex

Abstract

How does selective attention to affect influence sensory processing? In an fMRI investigation, when subjects were instructed to remember and rate the pleasantness of a taste stimulus, 0.1 m monosodium glutamate, activations were greater in the medial orbitofrontal and pregenual cingulate cortex than when subjects were instructed to remember and rate the intensity of the taste. When the subjects were instructed to remember and rate the intensity, activations were greater in the insular taste cortex. An interaction analysis showed that this dissociation of taste processing, depending on whether attention to pleasantness or intensity was relevant, was highly significant (P < 0.0002). Thus, depending on the context in which tastes are presented and whether affect is relevant, the brain responds to a taste differently. These findings show that, when attention is paid to affective value, the brain systems engaged to represent the sensory stimulus of taste are different from those engaged when attention is directed to the physical properties of a stimulus such as its intensity. This differential biasing of brain regions engaged in processing a sensory stimulus, depending on whether the cognitive demand is for affect-related vs. more sensory-related processing, may be an important aspect of cognition and attention. This has many implications for understanding the effects not only of taste but also of other sensory stimuli.