Persistent affective biases in human amygdala response following implicit priming with negative emotion concepts.
Pichon S., Rieger SW., Vuilleumier P.
To what extent do past experiences shape our behaviors, perceptions, and thoughts even without explicit knowledge of these influences? Behavioral research has demonstrated that various cognitive processes can be influenced by conceptual representations implicitly primed during a preceding and unrelated task. Here we investigated whether emotion processing might also be influenced by prior incidental exposure to negative semantic material and which neural substrates would mediate these effects. During a first (priming) task, participants performed a variant of the hangman game with either negative or neutral emotion-laden words. Subsequently, they performed a second, unrelated visual task with fearful and neutral faces presented at attended or unattended locations. Participants were generally not aware of any relationships between the two tasks. We found that priming with emotional words enhanced amygdala sensitivity to faces in the subsequent visual task, while decreasing discriminative responses to threat. Furthermore, the magnitude of the induced bias in behavior and amygdala activation was predicted by the effectiveness of semantic access observed in the priming task. This demonstrates that emotional processing can be modulated by implicit influence of environmental information processed at an earlier time, independently of volitional control.