Affective cortical asymmetry at the early developmental emergence of emotional expression

Elaina Bolinger*, Hong Viet V. Ngo, Vanessa Kock, Dirk T. Wassen, Tamara Matuz, Niels Birbaumer, Jan Born, Katharina Zinke

*Corresponding author for this work


Emotions have an important survival function. Vast amounts of research have demonstrated how affect-related changes in physiology promote survival by effecting short-term and long-term changes in adaptive behavior. However, if emotions truly serve such an inherent function, they should be pervasive across species and be established early in life. Here, using electroencephalographic (EEG) brain activity we sought to characterize core neuro-physiological features underlying affective function at the emergence of emotional expression [i.e., at the developmental age when human infants start to show reliable stimulus-elicited emotional states (4–6 months)]. Using an approach that eschews traditional EEG frequency band delineations (like theta, alpha), we demonstrate that negative emotional states induce a strong right hemispheric increase in the prominence of the resonant frequency (~5– 6 Hz) in the infant frontal EEG. Increased rightward asymmetry was strongly correlated with increased heart rate responses to emotionally negative states compared with neutral states. We conclude that functional frontal asymmetry is a key component of emotional processing and suggest that the rightward asymmetry in prominence of the resonant frequency during negative emotional states might reflect functional asymmetry in the central representation of anatomically driven asymmetry in the autonomic nervous system. Our findings indicate that the specific mode hallmarking emotional processing in the frontal cortex is established in parallel with the emergence of stable emotional states very early during development, despite the well known protracted maturation of frontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberENEURO.0042-20.2020
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.07.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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