A large body of brain imaging research highlights a set of specific regions in the limbic, insular and prefrontal cortex as sensitive to static visual images of high emotional content. Here we report that when using more naturalistic stimuli (short audio-visual video clips) the most selective cortical loci demonstrating preferential activation to emotional content were centered on the dorsal, action related, stream of visual areas. Subjects underwent fMRI scanning while watching a set of highly emotional as well as neutral video clips. Following the scan, clips were rated by each subject for emotional arousal and valence. Surprisingly, activity in dorsal stream visual areas (such as IPS and SPL) showed the highest preference to emotional arousal compared to all other brain areas. In contrast, ventral stream visual areas showed a significantly weaker emotional preference. Control experiments ruled out low level visual or auditory cues as contributing factors to this effect. Furthermore, the specific spatial pattern of emotion-related activations was incompatible with general arousal or attentional effects. Given the established role of dorsal stream visual areas in action-related functions, these results support the long held hypothesis associating emotion with preparation for action. © 2013 Elsevier Inc.
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