Brain activity underlying emotional valence and arousal: A response-related fMRI study

Silke Anders*, Martin Lotze, Michael Erb, Wolfgang Grodd, Niels Birbaumer

*Corresponding author for this work
194 Citations (Scopus)


Emotional behavior is organized along two psychophysiologic dimensions: (1) valence, varying from negative to positive, and (2) arousal, varying from low to high. Behavioral responses along these dimensions are assumed to be mediated by different brain circuits. We recorded startle reflex modulation and skin conductance responses in healthy volunteers during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed a set of emotional pictures and took verbal ratings of the emotional valence and arousal of each picture after scanning. Response-related multiple correlation analysis revealed differential brain activity in five brain regions. Startle reflex changes, associated with the valence of a stimulus, correlated with activity in the amygdala, while verbal reports of negative emotional valence varied with insular activity. Peripheral physiologic and verbal responses along the arousal dimension varied with thalamic and frontomedial activity. Peripheral physiologic responses along both dimensions correlated with activity in somatosensory association areas in the anterior parietal cortex. In the valence dimension, activity in the left anterior parietal cortex was associated with highly correlating peripheral physiologic and verbal responses, suggesting that verbal reports of emotional valence might depend partly on brain circuits representing peripheral physiologic changes. Our data provide direct evidence for a functional segregation of brain structures underlying peripheral physiologic responses and verbal ratings along the emotional dimensions of valence and arousal.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)200-209
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2004

Research Areas and Centers

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


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