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It is known that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is crucially involved in emotion regulation. However, the specific role of the OFC in controlling the behavior evoked by these emotions, such as approach-avoidance (AA) responses, remains largely unexplored. We measured behavioral and neural responses (using fMRI) during the performance of a social task, a reaction time (RT) task where subjects approached or avoided visually presented emotional faces by pulling or pushing a joystick, respectively. RTs were longer for affect-incongruent responses (approach angry faces and avoid happy faces) as compared to affect-congruent responses (approach-happy; avoid-angry). Moreover, affect-incongruent responses recruited increased activity in the left lateral OFC. These behavioral and neural effects emerged only when the subjects responded explicitly to the emotional value of the faces (AA-task) and largely disappeared when subjects responded to an affectively irrelevant feature of the faces during a control (gender evaluation: GE) task. Most crucially, the size of the OFC-effect correlated positively with the size of the behavioral costs of approaching angry faces. These findings qualify the role of the lateral OFC in the voluntary control of social-motivational behavior, emphasizing the relevance of this region for selecting rule-driven stimulus-response associations, while overriding automatic (affect-congruent) stimulus-response mappings.

Original publication




Journal article


Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci

Publication Date





50 - 58


Adolescent, Adult, Anger, Data Interpretation, Statistical, Emotions, Facial Expression, Female, Happiness, Humans, Hydrocortisone, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Motivation, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time, Social Behavior, Stress, Psychological, Young Adult