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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 May 1;12(5):848-860. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx011.

Maintaining the feelings of others in working memory is associated with activation of the left anterior insula and left frontal-parietal control network.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85724-5002, USA.


The maintenance of social/emotional information in working memory (SWM/EWM) has recently been the topic of multiple neuroimaging studies. However, some studies find that SWM/EWM involves a medial frontal-parietal network while others instead find lateral frontal-parietal activations similar to studies of verbal and visuospatial WM. In this study, we asked 26 healthy volunteers to complete an EWM task designed to examine whether different cognitive strategies- maintaining emotional images, words, or feelings- might account for these discrepant results. We also examined whether differences in EWM performance were related to general intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EI), and emotional awareness (EA). We found that maintaining emotional feelings, even when accounting for neural activation attributable to maintaining emotional images/words, still activated a left lateral frontal-parietal network (including the anterior insula and posterior dorsomedial frontal cortex). We also found that individual differences in the ability to maintain feelings were positively associated with IQ and EA, but not with EI. These results suggest that maintaining the feelings of others (at least when perceived exteroceptively) involves similar frontal-parietal control networks to exteroceptive WM, and that it is similarly linked to IQ, but that it also may be an important component of EA.


emotion; emotional working memory; insula; prefrontal cortex; social cognition; working memory

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