Inferring affect from fMRI data

Trends Cogn Sci. 2014 Aug;18(8):422-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.04.006. Epub 2014 May 13.


Neuroimaging findings are often interpreted in terms of affective experience, but researchers disagree about the advisability or even possibility of such inferences, and few frameworks explicitly link these levels of analysis. Here, we suggest that the spatial and temporal resolution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data could support inferences about affective states. Specifically, we propose that fMRI nucleus accumbens (NAcc) activity is associated with positive arousal, whereas a combination of anterior insula activity and NAcc activity is associated with negative arousal. This framework implies quantifiable and testable inferences about affect from fMRI data, which may ultimately inform predictions about approach and avoidance behavior. We consider potential limits on neurally inferred affect before highlighting theoretical and practical benefits.

Keywords: accumbens; affect; arousal; human; insula; negative; neuroimaging; positive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*