Neural response to emotional faces with and without awareness: event-related fMRI in a parietal patient with visual extinction and spatial neglect.
Vuilleumier P., Armony JL., Clarke K., Husain M., Driver J., Dolan RJ.
This study examined whether differential neural responses are evoked by emotional stimuli with and without conscious perception, in a patient with visual neglect and extinction. Stimuli were briefly shown in either right, left, or both fields during event-related fMRI. On bilateral trials, either a fearful or neutral left face appeared with a right house, and it could either be extinguished from awareness or perceived. Seen faces in left visual field (LVF) activated primary visual cortex in the damaged right-hemisphere and bilateral fusiform gyri. Extinguished left faces increased activity in striate and extrastriate cortex, compared with right houses only. Critically, fearful faces activated the left amygdala and extrastriate cortex both when seen and when extinguished; as well as bilateral orbitofrontal and intact right superior parietal areas. Comparison of perceived versus extinguished faces revealed no difference in amygdala for fearful faces. Conscious perception increased activity in fusiform, parietal and prefrontal areas of the left-hemisphere, irrespective of emotional expression; while a differential emotional response to fearful faces occurring specifically with awareness was found in bilateral parietal, temporal, and frontal areas. These results demonstrate that amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex can be activated by emotional stimuli even without awareness after parietal damage; and that substantial unconscious residual processing can occur within spared brain areas well beyond visual cortex, despite neglect and extinction.