Neural processing of negative emotional stimuli and the influence of age, sex and task-related characteristics

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Sep:68:773-793. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.04.020. Epub 2016 May 7.


Negative emotional stimuli are particularly salient events that receive privileged access to neurocognitive resources. At the neural level, the processing of negative stimuli relies on a set of sensory, limbic, and prefrontal areas. However, controversies exist on how demographic and task-related characteristics modulate this brain pattern. Here, we used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis and replicator dynamics to investigate the processing of negative visual stimuli in healthy adults. Our findings endorse the central role of the amygdala. This result might reflect how this structure modulates perceptual and attentional mechanisms in response to emotional stimuli. Additionally, we characterize how the neural processing of negative visual stimuli is influenced by the demographic factors of age and sex as well as by task-related characteristics like stimulus type, emotion category, and task instruction, with the amygdala showing comparable engagement across different sexes, stimulus types, and task instructions. Our findings practically inform experimentation in the affective neurosciences but also suggest brain circuits for neurobiological investigations of affective symptomatology.

Keywords: Affect; Age; Emotion; Faces; Images; Sex; Words; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala
  • Attention
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging