Exposure to subliminal arousing stimuli induces robust activation in the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate, insular cortex and primary visual cortex: a systematic meta-analysis of fMRI studies

Neuroimage. 2012 Feb 1;59(3):2962-73. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.09.077. Epub 2011 Oct 7.


Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) demonstrates that the subliminal presentation of arousing stimuli can activate subcortical brain regions independently of consciousness-generating top-down cortical modulation loops. Delineating these processes may elucidate mechanisms for arousal, aberration in which may underlie some psychiatric conditions. Here we are the first to review and discuss four Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analyses of fMRI studies using subliminal paradigms. We find a maximum of 9 out of 12 studies using subliminal presentation of faces contributing to activation of the amygdala, and also a significantly high number of studies reporting activation in the bilateral anterior cingulate, bilateral insular cortex, hippocampus and primary visual cortex. Subliminal faces are the strongest modality, whereas lexical stimuli are the weakest. Meta-analyses independent of studies using Regions of Interest (ROI) revealed no biasing effect. Core neuronal arousal in the brain, which may be at first independent of conscious processing, potentially involves a network incorporating primary visual areas, somatosensory, implicit memory and conflict monitoring regions. These data could provide candidate brain regions for the study of psychiatric disorders associated with aberrant automatic emotional processing.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Subliminal Stimulation*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*