Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant olfactory, visual, and auditory stimuli: a positron emission tomography study

J Neurosci. 2000 Oct 15;20(20):7752-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.20-20-07752.2000.


Neural correlates of responses to emotionally valenced olfactory, visual, and auditory stimuli were examined using positron emission tomography. Twelve volunteers were scanned using the water bolus method. For each sensory modality, regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) during presentation of both pleasant and unpleasant stimuli was compared with that measured during presentation of neutral stimuli. During the emotionally valenced conditions, subjects performed forced-choice pleasant and unpleasant judgments. During the neutral conditions, subjects were asked to select at random one of a two key-press buttons. All stimulations were synchronized with inspiration, using an airflow olfactometer, to present the same number of stimuli for each sensory modality. A no-stimulation control condition was also performed in which no stimulus was presented. For all three sensory modalities, emotionally valenced stimuli led to increased rCBF in the orbitofrontal cortex, the temporal pole, and the superior frontal gyrus, in the left hemisphere. Emotionally valenced olfactory and visual but not auditory stimuli produced additional rCBF increases in the hypothalamus and the subcallosal gyrus. Only emotionally valenced olfactory stimuli induced bilateral rCBF increases in the amygdala. These findings suggest that pleasant and unpleasant emotional judgments recruit the same core network in the left hemisphere, regardless of the sensory modality. This core network is activated in addition to a number of circuits that are specific to individual sensory modalities. Finally, the data suggest a superior potency of emotionally valenced olfactory over visual and auditory stimuli in activating the amygdala.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Data Display
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed