Transcranial magnetic stimulation demonstrates a role for the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in emotion perception

Psychiatry Res. 2020 Feb;284:112515. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.112515. Epub 2019 Aug 10.


The lateral prefrontal cortex, a region with both structural and functional connectivity to the amygdala, has been consistently implicated in the downregulation of subcortical-generated emotional responses. Although previous work has demonstrated that the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) is important to emotion processing, no study has interrupted vlPFC function in order to test is role in emotion perception. In the current study, we acutely disrupted vlPFC function in twenty healthy adult participants by administering sham stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in randomized order, during performance of an emotional perception task. During sham stimulation, participants demonstrated increased perceptual sensitivity for happy faces compared to angry faces. Disruption of the vlPFC eliminated this difference: in this condition, perceptual sensitivity did not differ between happy and angry faces. Reaction times and response bias did not differ between emotions or TMS conditions. This pattern of perceptual bias is consistent with effects observed in a wide range of affective disorders, in which vlPFC dysfunction has also been reported. This study provides insight into a possible mechanism through which the vlPFC may contribute to emotion perception.

Keywords: Emotion perception; Transcranial magnetic stimulation; Valence; Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult