Ability to maintain internal arousal and motivation modulates brain responses to emotions

Virginie Sterpenich, Sophie Schwartz, Pierre Maquet, Martin Desseilles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Persistence (PS) is defined as the ability to generate and maintain arousal and motivation internally in the absence of immediate external reward. Low PS individuals tend to become discouraged when expectations are not rapidly fulfilled. The goal of this study was to investigate whether individual differences in PS influence the recruitment of brain regions involved in emotional processing and regulation. In a functional MRI study, 35 subjects judged the emotional intensity of displayed pictures. When processing negative pictures, low PS (vs. high PS) subjects showed higher amygdala and right orbito-frontal cortex (OFC) activity but lower left OFC activity. This dissociation in OFC activity suggests greater prefrontal cortical asymmetry for approach/avoidance motivation, suggesting an avoidance response to aversive stimuli in low PS. For positive or neutral stimuli, low PS subjects showed lower activity in the amygdala, striatum, and hippocampus. These results suggest that low PS may involve an imbalance in processing distinct emotional inputs, with greater reactivity to aversive information in regions involved in avoidance behaviour (amygdala, OFC) and dampened response to positive and neutral stimuli across circuits subserving motivated behaviour (striatum, hippocampus, amygdala). Low PS affective style was associated with depression vulnerability. These findings in non-depressed subjects point to a neural mechanism whereby some individuals are more likely to show systematic negative emotional biases, as frequently observed in depression. The assessment of these individual differences, including those that may cause vulnerability to depressive disorders, would therefore constitute a promising approach to risk assessment for depression.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere112999
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


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