Escape from harm: linking affective vision and motor responses during active avoidance

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Dec;9(12):1993-2000. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu013. Epub 2014 Feb 3.


When organisms confront unpleasant objects in their natural environments, they engage in behaviors that allow them to avoid aversive outcomes. Here, we linked visual processing of threat to its behavioral consequences by including a motor response that terminated exposure to an aversive event. Dense-array steady-state visual evoked potentials were recorded in response to conditioned threat and safety signals viewed in active or passive behavioral contexts. The amplitude of neuronal responses in visual cortex increased additively, as a function of emotional value and action relevance. The gain in local cortical population activity for threat relative to safety cues persisted when aversive reinforcement was behaviorally terminated, suggesting a lingering emotionally based response amplification within the visual system. Distinct patterns of long-range neural synchrony emerged between the visual cortex and extravisual regions. Increased coupling between visual and higher-order structures was observed specifically during active perception of threat, consistent with a reorganization of neuronal populations involved in linking sensory processing to action preparation.

Keywords: EEG; aversive conditioning; avoidance; functional connectivity; threat processing; visual cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Electroencephalography
  • Escape Reaction / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult