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Neuroimage. 2005 Dec;28(4):848-58. Epub 2005 Aug 1.

Emotion and attention interactions in social cognition: brain regions involved in processing anger prosody.

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Geneva Emotion Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Geneva, Switzerland.


Multiple levels of processing are thought to be involved in the appraisal of emotionally relevant events, with some processes being engaged relatively independently of attention, whereas other processes may depend on attention and current task goals or context. We conducted an event-related fMRI experiment to examine how processing angry voice prosody, an affectively and socially salient signal, is modulated by voluntary attention. To manipulate attention orthogonally to emotional prosody, we used a dichotic listening paradigm in which meaningless utterances, pronounced with either angry or neutral prosody, were presented simultaneously to both ears on each trial. In two successive blocks, participants selectively attended to either the left or right ear and performed a gender-decision on the voice heard on the target side. Our results revealed a functional dissociation between different brain areas. Whereas the right amygdala and bilateral superior temporal sulcus responded to anger prosody irrespective of whether it was heard from a to-be-attended or to-be-ignored voice, the orbitofrontal cortex and the cuneus in medial occipital cortex showed greater activation to the same emotional stimuli when the angry voice was to-be-attended rather than to-be-ignored. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed a strong correlation between orbitofrontal regions and sensitivity on a behavioral inhibition scale measuring proneness to anxiety reactions. Our results underscore the importance of emotion and attention interactions in social cognition by demonstrating that multiple levels of processing are involved in the appraisal of emotionally relevant cues in voices, and by showing a modulation of some emotional responses by both the current task-demands and individual differences.

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