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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2011 Jan;6(1):128-37. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq026. Epub 2010 May 10.

Contrasting roles for lateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in transient and dispositional affective experience.

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Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been implicated in the experience and regulation of emotional states. Emotional experience is a complex construct, encompassing a range of more specific processes. This exploratory study aimed to delineate which (if any) aspects of emotional experience rely critically on either the ventromedial frontal (VMF) or lateral frontal (LF) lobes. The affective experience of individuals with damage to these regions was surveyed in detail using several measures and compared with that of control participants. Dependent measures included subjective and observer ratings of both dispositional affect and transient responses to laboratory mood inductions. VMF damage was associated with greater negative dispositional affect relative to controls and to individuals with LF damage; however, transient responses to emotional stimuli were largely normal. In contrast, LF damage was associated with an exaggerated subjective reactivity to sad emotional stimuli relative to control participants, but normal dispositional affect. Interestingly, neither form of PFC damage affected spontaneous emotion recovery following the mood inductions. These findings suggest a role for VMF in modulating dispositional negative affect; in contrast, LF areas appear to be critical in regulating transient emotional responses while emotional stimuli are present. This study also illustrates the dissociability of different aspects of emotional experience in patients with focal brain injury.

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