The neural networks of subjectively evaluated emotional conflicts

Hum Brain Mapp. 2016 Jun;37(6):2234-46. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23169. Epub 2016 Mar 16.


Previous work on the neural underpinnings of emotional conflict processing has largely focused on designs that instruct participants to ignore a distracter which conflicts with a target. In contrast, this study investigated the noninstructed experience and evaluation of an emotional conflict, where positive or negative cues can be subjectively prioritized. To this end, healthy participants freely watched short film scenes that evoked emotional conflicts while their BOLD responses were measured. Participants' individual ratings of conflict and valence perception during the film scenes were collected immediately afterwards, and the individual ratings were regressed against the BOLD data. Our analyses revealed that (a) amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex were significantly involved in prioritizing positive or negative cues, but not in subjective evaluations of conflict per se, and (b) superior temporal sulcus (STS) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL), which have been implicated in social cognition and emotion control, were involved in both prioritizing positive or negative cues and subjectively evaluating conflict, and may thus constitute "hubs" or "switches" in emotional conflict processing. Psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analyses further revealed stronger functional connectivity between IPL and ventral prefrontal-medial parietal areas in prioritizing negative cues, and stronger connectivity between STS and dorsal-rostral prefrontal-medial parietal areas in prioritizing positive cues. In sum, our results suggest that IPL and STS are important in the subjective evaluation of complex conflicts and influence valence prioritization via prefrontal and parietal control centers. Hum Brain Mapp 37:2234-2246, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: amygdala; conflict; emotion control; fMRI; free viewing; functional connectivity; inferior parietal lobule; superior temporal sulcus.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cues
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Video Recording
  • Visual Perception / physiology


  • Oxygen