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Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Apr;33(4):753-62. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21251. Epub 2011 Mar 21.

Tracking emotional valence: the role of the orbitofrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-5050, USA.


Successful navigation of the social world requires the ability to recognize and track emotions as they unfold and change dynamically. Neuroimaging and neurological studies of emotion recognition have primarily focused on the ability to identify the emotion shown in static photographs of facial expressions, showing correlations with the amygdala as well as temporal and frontal brain regions. In this study, we examined the neural correlates of continuously tracking dynamically changing emotions. Fifty-nine patients with diverse neurodegenerative diseases used a rating dial to track continuously how positive or how negative the character in a film clip felt. Tracking accuracy was determined by comparing participants' ratings with the ratings of 10 normal control participants. The relationship between tracking accuracy and regional brain tissue content was examined using voxel-based morphometry. Low tracking accuracy was primarily associated with gray matter loss in the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Our finding that the right OFC is critical to the ability to track dynamically changing emotions is consistent with previous research showing right OFC involvement in both socioemotional understanding and modifying responding in changing situations.

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