Anterior prefrontal cortex inhibition impairs control over social emotional actions

Curr Biol. 2011 Oct 25;21(20):1766-70. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.050. Epub 2011 Oct 13.


When dealing with emotional situations, we often need to rapidly override automatic stimulus-response mappings and select an alternative course of action [1], for instance, when trying to manage, rather than avoid, another's aggressive behavior. The anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) has been linked to the control of these social emotional behaviors [2, 3]. We studied how this control is implemented by inhibiting the left aPFC with continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS; [4]). The behavioral and cerebral consequences of this intervention were assessed with a task quantifying the control of social emotional actions and with concurrent measurements of brain perfusion. Inhibition of the aPFC led participants to commit more errors when they needed to select rule-driven responses overriding automatic action tendencies evoked by emotional faces. Concurrently, task-related perfusion decreased in bilateral aPFC and posterior parietal cortex and increased in amygdala and left fusiform face area. We infer that the aPFC controls social emotional behavior by upregulating regions involved in rule selection [5] and downregulating regions supporting the automatic evaluation of emotions [6]. These findings illustrate how exerting emotional control during social interactions requires the aPFC to coordinate rapid action selection processes, the detection of emotional conflicts, and the inhibition of emotionally-driven responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Young Adult