The Application of Positron Emission Tomography to the Study of Normal and Pathologic Emotions




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This report reviews six studies in which positron emission tomography (PET) was used to investigate the neuroanatomic correlates of emotion, anxiety, and anxiety disorders. PET was used to study brain regions that participate in film- and recall-generated discrete emotions (happiness, sadness, and disgust), picture-generated positive and negative emotions, and normal anticipatory anxiety; participate in the predisposition to, elicitation of, and treatment of panic attacks; participate in social phobic anxiety; and participate in specific phobic anxiety. Results of these investigations suggest that thalamic and medial prefrontal regions may participate in aspects of normal emotion unrelated to its type, valence, or stimulus; that modality-specific sensory association areas and anterior temporal lobe regions appear to participate in the evaluation procedure that invests exteroceptive sensory information with emotional significance; that anterior insular regions appear to participate in the evaluation procedure that invests potentially distressing cognitive and interoceptive sensory information with negative emotional significance; and that anterior cingulate, cerebellar vermis, midbrain, and other brain regions appear to participate in the elaboration of normal and pathologic forms of anxiety. As a complement to other research strategies, PET promises to help determine how multiple brain regions and the mental operations to which they are related work in concert to produce emotions and how they conspire to produce emotional disorders.

J Clin Psychiatry 1997;58(suppl 16):4–12