Neural correlates of sad feelings in healthy girls

Neuroscience. 2003;121(3):545-51. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(03)00528-1.


Emotional development is indisputably one of the cornerstones of personality development during infancy. According to the differential emotions theory (DET), primary emotions are constituted of three distinct components: the neural-evaluative, the expressive, and the experiential. The DET further assumes that these three components are biologically based and functional nearly from birth. Such a view entails that the neural substrate of primary emotions must be similar in children and adults. Guided by this assumption of the DET, the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study was conducted to identify the neural correlates of sad feelings in healthy children. Fourteen healthy girls (aged 8-10) were scanned while they watched sad film excerpts aimed at externally inducing a transient state of sadness (activation task). Emotionally neutral film excerpts were also presented to the subjects (reference task). The subtraction of the brain activity measured during the viewing of the emotionally neutral film excerpts from that noted during the viewing of the sad film excerpts revealed that sad feelings were associated with significant bilateral activations of the midbrain, the medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann area [BA] 10), and the anterior temporal pole (BA 21). A significant locus of activation was also noted in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 47). These results are compatible with those of previous functional neuroimaging studies of sadness in adults. They suggest that the neural substrate underlying the subjective experience of sadness is comparable in children and adults. Such a similitude provides empirical support to the DET assumption that the neural substrate of primary emotions is biologically based.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Echo-Planar Imaging / methods
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Motion Pictures