fMRI identifies the right inferior frontal cortex as the brain region where time interval processing is altered by negative emotional arousal

Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 Mar;36(3):981-95. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22680. Epub 2014 Nov 4.


The reason why human beings are inclined to overestimate the duration of highly arousing negative events remains enigmatic. The issue about what neurocognitive mechanisms and neural structures support the connection between time perception and emotion was addressed here by an event-related neuroimaging study involving a localizer task, followed by the main experiment. The localizer task, in which participants had to categorize either the duration or the average color of visual stimuli aimed at identifying the neural structures constitutive of a duration-specific network. The aim of the main experiment, in which participants had to categorize the presentation time of either neutral or emotionally negative visual stimuli, was to unmask which parts of the previously identified duration-specific network are sensitive to emotionally negative arousal. The duration-specific network that we uncovered from the localizer task comprised the cerebellum bilaterally as well as the orbitofrontal, the anterior cingulate, the anterior insular, and the inferior frontal cortices in the right hemisphere. Strikingly, the imaging data from the main experiment underscored that the right inferior frontal cortex (IFC) was the only region within the duration-specific network whose activity was increased in the face of emotionally negative pictures compared to neutral ones. Remarkably too, the extent of neural activation induced by emotionally negative pictures (compared to neutral ones) in this region correlated with a behavioral index reflecting the extent to which emotionally negative pictures were overestimated compared to neutral ones. The results are discussed in relation to recent models and studies suggesting that the right anterior insular cortex/IFC is of central importance in time perception.

Keywords: anterior insular cortex; emotion; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); inferior frontal cortex; time perception.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult