Amy Winecoff, John A. Clithero, R. McKell Carter, Sara R. Bergman, Lihong
Wang, and Scott A. Huettel
J. Neurosci. 2013;33 11032-11039
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) plays a critical role in processing appetitive stimuli. Recent investigations have shown that reward value signals in the vmPFC can be altered by emotion regulation processes; however, to what extent the processing of positive emotion relies on neural regions implicated in reward processing is unclear. Here, we investigated the effects of emotion regulation on the valuation of emotionally evocative images. Two independent experimental samples of human participants performed a cognitive reappraisal task while undergoing fMRI. The experience of positive emotions activated the vmPFC, whereas the regulation of positive emotions led to relative decreases in vmPFC activation. During the experience of positive emotions, vmPFC activation tracked participants' own subjective ratings of the valence of stimuli. Furthermore, vmPFC activation also tracked normative valence ratings of the stimuli when participants were asked to experience their emotions, but not when asked to regulate them. A separate analysis of the predictive power of vmPFC on behavior indicated that even after accounting for normative stimulus ratings and condition, increased signal in the vmPFC was associated with more positive valence ratings. These results suggest that the vmPFC encodes a domain-general value signal that tracks the value of not only external rewards, but also emotional stimuli.