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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2007 Sep;7(3):243-50.

Autonomic and prefrontal cortex responses to autobiographical recall of emotions.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


The present study combined measures of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) using positron emission tomography (PET) with measures of the autonomic nervous system using skin conductance (SC), heart rate (HR), and the high frequency band of heart rate variability (HRV) in ten healthy participants who were exposed to autobiographical scripts of memories for three target emotions: anger, happiness, and sadness. According to the results, anger was the only emotion to show a significant increase in sympathetic activity, accompanied by a significant decrease in HRV when compared with a neutral script. Anger was also the only emotion to show significant changes in rCBF in the prefrontal cortex. By contrast, the results for the happy and sad conditions showed no significant increase in sympathetic activity and no changes in rCBF in the prefrontal cortex in comparison with the neutral script. The findings suggest that a relative increase in sympathetic activity with a reciprocal decrease in parasympathetic activity may be necessary to generate frontal activity in autobiographical recall of emotions.

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