Abstract representations of associated emotions in the human brain

Junsuk Kim, Johannes Schultz, Tim Rohe, Christian Wallraven, Seong Whan Lee, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Emotions can be aroused by various kinds of stimulus modalities. Recent neuroimaging studies indicate that several brain regions represent emotions at an abstract level, i.e., independently from the sensory cues from which they are perceived (e.g., face, body, or voice stimuli). If emotions are indeed represented at such an abstract level, then these abstract representations should also be activated by the memory of an emotional event. We tested this hypothesis by asking human participants to learn associations between emotional stimuli (videos of faces or bodies) and non-emotional stimuli (fractals). After successful learning, fMRI signals were recorded during the presentations of emotional stimuli and emotion-associated fractals. We tested whether emotions could be decoded from fMRI signals evoked by the fractal stimuli using a classifier trained on the responses to the emotional stimuli (and vice versa). This was implemented as a whole-brain searchlight, multivoxel activation pattern analysis, which revealed successful emotion decoding in four brain regions: posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), precuneus, MPFC, and angular gyrus. The same analysis run only on responses to emotional stimuli revealed clusters in PCC, precuneus, and MPFC. Multidimensional scaling analysis of the activation patterns revealed clear clustering of responses by emotion across stimulus types. Our results suggest that PCC, precuneus, and MPFC contain representations of emotions that can be evoked by stimuli that carry emotional information themselves or by stimuli that evoke memories of emotional stimuli, while angular gyrus is more likely to take part in emotional memory retrieval.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5655-5663
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Apr 8

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 the authors.


  • Abstract representation
  • Associated emotion
  • MVPA
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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