Neural correlates of processing valence and arousal in affective words

P. A. Lewis, H. D. Critchley, P. Rotshtein, R. J. Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychological frameworks conceptualize emotion along 2 dimensions, "valence" and "arousal." Arousal invokes a single axis of intensity increasing from neutral to maximally arousing. Valence can be described variously as a bipolar continuum, as independent positive and negative dimensions, or as hedonic value (distance from neutral). In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to characterize neural activity correlating with arousal and with distinct models of valence during presentation of affective word stimuli. Our results extend observations in the chemosensory domain suggesting a double dissociation in which subregions of orbitofrontal cortex process valence, whereas amygdala preferentially processes arousal. In addition, our data support the physiological validity of descriptions of valence along independent axes or as absolute distance from neutral but fail to support the validity of descriptions of valence along a bipolar continuum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)742-748
Number of pages7
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
PAL was supported by the European Union FET programme PRESENCIA IST-2001-37927 and HDC by the Wellcome Trust. This work was carried out under a programme grant for the Wellcome Trust to RJD. We are grateful to the technical staff and analysis group at the Functional Imaging Laboratory for invaluable assistance and to 3 anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions and comments. Conflict of Interest: None declared.


  • Amygdala
  • Arousal
  • Emotion
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Valence
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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