Expecting unpleasant stimuli--an fMRI study

Psychiatry Res. 2007 Jan 15;154(1):1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2006.02.007. Epub 2006 Dec 19.


Expecting forthcoming events and preparing adequate responses are important cognitive functions that help the individual to deal with the environment. The emotional valence of an event is decisive for the resulting action. Revealing the underlying mechanisms may help to understand the dysfunctional information processing in depression and anxiety that are associated with negative expectation of the future. We were interested in selective brain activity during the expectation of unpleasant visual stimuli. Twelve healthy female subjects were biased to expect and then perceive emotionally unpleasant, pleasant or neutral stimuli during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Expecting unpleasant stimuli relative to expecting pleasant and neutral stimuli resulted in activation of mainly cingulate cortex, insula, prefrontal areas, thalamus, hypothalamus and striatum. While certain areas were also active during subsequent presentation of the emotional stimuli, distinct regions of the anterior cingulate gyrus and the thalamus were solely active during expectation of the unpleasant stimuli. The identified areas may reflect a network for internal adaptation and preparation processes in order to react adequately to expected unpleasant events. They are known as well to be altered in depression. Disorders of this network may be relevant for psychiatric disorders such as depression.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiopathology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiopathology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Reference Values
  • Set, Psychology*
  • Thalamus / physiopathology


  • Oxygen