Brain regions modulated by cognitive tasks during emotional processing were investigated using fMRI. Participants performed indirect and direct emotional processing tasks on positive and negative faces and pictures. We used a multivariate technique, partial least squares (PLS) to determine spatially distributed patterns of brain activity associated with different tasks and stimulus conditions, as well as the interaction between the two. The pattern of brain activity accounting for the most task-related covariance represented a task x stimulus interaction and distinguished indirect processing of pictures and direct processing of faces from direct processing of pictures and indirect processing of faces. The latter two conditions were characterised by limbic (e.g. amygdala, insula, thalamus) and temporal lobe activity, in addition to greater activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex. Indirect and direct processing of pictures and faces, respectively, were represented by more dorsal prefrontal and parietal activity. These findings indicate that brain activity during processing of emotional content is critically dependent on both the type of stimulus and processing task. In addition, these results support the idea that the pattern of activity in the emotional network can be influenced in a 'top-down' fashion via cognitive factors such as attentional control, and as such, have important clinical implications for emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety.