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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2011 Jan;6(1):24-37. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq003. Epub 2010 Mar 1.

Neural correlates of recognition memory for emotional faces and scenes.

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Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.


We examined the influence of emotional valence and type of item to be remembered on brain activity during recognition, using faces and scenes. We used multivariate analyses of event-related fMRI data to identify whole-brain patterns, or networks of activity. Participants demonstrated better recognition for scenes vs faces and for negative vs neutral and positive items. Activity was increased in extrastriate cortex and inferior frontal gyri for emotional scenes, relative to neutral scenes and all face types. Increased activity in these regions also was seen for negative faces relative to positive faces. Correct recognition of negative faces and scenes (hits vs correct rejections) was associated with increased activity in amygdala, hippocampus, extrastriate, frontal and parietal cortices. Activity specific to correctly recognized emotional faces, but not scenes, was found in sensorimotor areas and rostral prefrontal cortex. These results suggest that emotional valence and type of visual stimulus both modulate brain activity at recognition, and influence multiple networks mediating visual, memory and emotion processing. The contextual information in emotional scenes may facilitate memory via additional visual processing, whereas memory for emotional faces may rely more on cognitive control mediated by rostrolateral prefrontal regions.

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