Emotional flexibility reflects the ability to adjust the emotional response to the changing environmental context. To understand how context can trigger a change in emotional response, i.e., how it can upregulate the initial emotional response or trigger a shift in the valence of emotional response, we used a task consisting of picture pairs during functional magnetic resonance imaging sessions. In each pair, the first picture was a smaller detail (a decontextualized photograph depicting emotions using primarily facial and postural expressions) from the second (contextualized) picture, and the neural response to a decontextualized picture was compared with the same picture in a context. Thirty-one healthy participants (18 females; mean age: 24.44 ± 3.4) were involved in the study. In general, context (vs. pictures without context) increased activation in areas involved in facial emotional processing (e.g., middle temporal gyrus, fusiform gyrus, and temporal pole) and affective mentalizing (e.g., precuneus, temporoparietal junction). After excluding the general effect of context by using an exclusive mask with activation to context vs. no-context, the automatic shift from positive to negative valence induced by the context was associated with increased activation in the thalamus, caudate, medial frontal gyrus and lateral orbitofrontal cortex. When the meaning changed from negative to positive, it resulted in a less widespread activation pattern, mainly in the precuneus, middle temporal gyrus, and occipital lobe. Providing context cues to facial information recruited brain areas that induced changes in the emotional responses and interpretation of the emotional situations automatically to support emotional flexibility.
Copyright: © 2022 Biró et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.