Early Career Award. Clarifying the emotive functions of asymmetrical frontal cortical activity

Psychophysiology. 2003 Nov;40(6):838-48. doi: 10.1111/1469-8986.00121.


Asymmetrical activity over the frontal cortex has been implicated in the experience and expression of emotions and motivations. Explanations of the research have suggested that relatively greater left frontal activity is associated with positive affect and/or approach motivation, and that relatively greater right frontal activity is associated with negative affect and/or withdrawal motivation. In past research, affective valence and motivational direction were confounded, as only positive (negative) affects that were associated with approach (withdrawal) motivation were examined. Consequently, this research is unable to address whether asymmetrical frontal activity is associated with affective valence, motivational direction, or some combination of valence and motivation. In this article, I review research on the emotion of anger, a negative emotion often associated with approach motivation, that suggests that asymmetrical frontal cortical activity is due to motivational direction and not affective valence. Methodological and theoretical implications for the study of the frontal asymmetry specifically, and for emotion and motivation more generally, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anger / physiology
  • Behavior
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Hormones / biosynthesis
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Motivation


  • Hormones