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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Nov 26;7:764. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00764. eCollection 2013.

Situating emotional experience.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University Boston, MA, USA.

Abstract

Psychological construction approaches to emotion suggest that emotional experience is situated and dynamic. Fear, for example, is typically studied in a physical danger context (e.g., threatening snake), but in the real world, it often occurs in social contexts, especially those involving social evaluation (e.g., public speaking). Understanding situated emotional experience is critical because adaptive responding is guided by situational context (e.g., inferring the intention of another in a social evaluation situation vs. monitoring the environment in a physical danger situation). In an fMRI study, we assessed situated emotional experience using a newly developed paradigm in which participants vividly imagine different scenarios from a first-person perspective, in this case scenarios involving either social evaluation or physical danger. We hypothesized that distributed neural patterns would underlie immersion in social evaluation and physical danger situations, with shared activity patterns across both situations in multiple sensory modalities and in circuitry involved in integrating salient sensory information, and with unique activity patterns for each situation type in coordinated large-scale networks that reflect situated responding. More specifically, we predicted that networks underlying the social inference and mentalizing involved in responding to a social threat (in regions that make up the "default mode" network) would be reliably more active during social evaluation situations. In contrast, networks underlying the visuospatial attention and action planning involved in responding to a physical threat would be reliably more active during physical danger situations. The results supported these hypotheses. In line with emerging psychological construction approaches, the findings suggest that coordinated brain networks offer a systematic way to interpret the distributed patterns that underlie the diverse situational contexts characterizing emotional life.

KEYWORDS:

affect; affective neuroscience; cognitive neuroscience; emotion; situated cognition

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