Emotional self reference: Brain structures involved in the processing of words describing one’s own emotions
The present functional magnetic resonance imaging study investigated the role of emotion-related (e.g., amygdala) and self-related brain structures (MPFC in particular) in the processing of emotional words varying in stimulus reference. Healthy subjects (N = 22) were presented with emotional (pleasant or unpleasant) or neutral words in three different conditions: 1) self (e.g., my fear), 2) other (e.g., his fear) and 3) no reference (e.g., the fear). Processing of unpleasant words was associated with increased amygdala and also insula activation across all conditions. Pleasant stimuli were specifically associated with increased activation of amygdala and insula when related to the self (vs. other and no reference). Activity in the MPFC (vMPFC in particular) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was preferentially increased during processing of self-related emotional words (vs. other and no reference). These results demonstrate that amygdala activation in response to emotional stimuli is modulated by stimulus reference and that brain structures implicated in emotional and self-related processing might be important for the subjective experience of one’s own emotions.