Evidence from electrophysiological and functional neuroimaging studies has suggested strong lateralization of affective processing within the insular cortices; however, little is known about the spatial location of these processes in these regions. Using quantitative meta-analytic methods the laterality of: (1) emotional processing; (2) stimulus valence (positive vs. negative); (3) perception vs. experience of emotion; and (4) sex-differences were assessed using the data from 143 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Activation in response to all emotional stimuli occurred in bilateral anterior and mid-insula, and the left posterior insula. Positive emotional stimuli were associated with activation in the left anterior and mid-insula, while negative emotional stimuli activated bilateral anterior and mid-insula. Activation in response to the perception and experience of emotions was highest in bilateral anterior insula, and within the mid and posterior insula it was left lateralized. In males, emotional stimuli predominantly activated the left anterior/mid-insula and right posterior insula, whereas females activated bilateral anterior insula and the left mid and posterior insula. Spatial distinctions observed in emotional processing and its subcategories can provide a comprehensive account of the role of the insular cortices in affect processing, which could aid in understanding deficits seen in psychiatric or developmental disorders.
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