Amygdala activation during reading of emotional adjectives - An advantage for pleasant content

Cornelia Herbert, Thomas Ethofer, Silke Anders, Markus Junghofer, Dirk Wildgruber, Wolfgang Grodd, Johanna Kissler*

*Corresponding author for this work
88 Citations (Scopus)


This event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated brain activity elicited by emotional adjectives during silent reading without specific processing instructions. Fifteen healthy volunteers were asked to read a set of randomly presented high-arousing emotional (pleasant and unpleasant) and low-arousing neutral adjectives. Silent reading of emotional in contrast to neutral adjectives evoked enhanced activations in visual, limbic and prefrontal brain regions. In particular, reading pleasant adjectives produced a more robust activation pattern in the left amygdala and the left extrastriate visual cortex than did reading unpleasant or neutral adjectives. Moreover, extrastriate visual cortex and amygdala activity were significantly correlated during reading of pleasant adjectives. Furthermore, pleasant adjectives were better remembered than unpleasant and neutral adjectives in a surprise free recall test conducted after scanning. Thus, visual processing was biased towards pleasant words and involved the amygdala, underscoring recent theoretical views of a general role of the human amygdala in relevance detection for both pleasant and unpleasant stimuli. Results indicate preferential processing of pleasant information in healthy young adults and can be accounted for within the framework of appraisal theory.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)35-49
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 03.04.2009

Research Areas and Centers

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


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