Emotional Experience Modulates Brain Activity During Fixation Periods Between Tasks
Sean Pitroda, Mike Angstadt, Michael S. McCloskey, Emil F. Coccaro, K. Luan Phan
Background: Functional imaging studies have begun to identify a set of brain regions whose brain activity is greater during 'rest' (e.g., fixation) states than during cognitive tasks. It has been posited that these regions constitute a network that supports the brain's default mode, which is temporarily suspended during specific goal-directed behaviors. Exogenous tasks that require cognitive effort are thought to command reallocation of resources away from the brain's default state. However, it remains unknown if brain activity during fixation periods between active task periods is influenced by previous task-related emotional content.
Methods: We examined brain activity during periods of FIXATION (viewing and rating gray-scale images) interspersed among periods of viewing and rating complex images ('PICTURE') with positive, negative, and neutral affective content.
Results: We show that a selected group of brain regions (PCC, precuneus, IPL, vACC) do exhibit activity that is greater during FIXATION (>PICTURE); these regions have previously been implicated in the "default brain network". In addition, we report that activity within precuneus and IPL in the FIXATION period is attenuated by the precedent processing of images with positive and negative emotional content, relative to non-emotional content.
Conclusion: These data suggest that the activity within regions implicated in the default network is modulated by the presence of environmental stimuli with motivational salience and, thus, adds to our understanding of the brain function during periods of low cognitive, emotional, or sensory demand.