Enhanced insular/prefrontal connectivity when resisting from emotional distraction during visual search

Tiziana Pedale, Emiliano Macaluso, Valerio Santangelo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previous literature demonstrated that the processing of emotional stimuli can interfere with goal-directed behavior. This has been shown primarily in the context of working memory tasks, but “emotional distraction” may affect also other processes, such as the orienting of visuo-spatial attention. During fMRI, we presented human subjects with emotional stimuli embedded within complex everyday life visual scenes. Emotional stimuli could be either the current target to be searched for or task-irrelevant distractors. Behavioral and eye-movement data revealed faster detection of emotional than neutral targets. Emotional distractors were found to be fixated later and for a shorter duration than emotional targets, suggesting efficient top-down control in avoiding emotional distraction. The fMRI data demonstrated that negative (but not positive) stimuli were mandatorily processed by limbic/para-limbic regions (namely, the right amygdala and the left insula), irrespective of current task relevance: that is, these regions activated for both emotional targets and distractors. However, analyses of inter-regional connectivity revealed a functional coupling between the left insula and the right prefrontal cortex that increased specifically during search in the presence of emotional distractors. This indicates that increased functional coupling between affective limbic/para-limbic regions and control regions in the frontal cortex can attenuate emotional distraction, permitting the allocation of spatial attentional resources toward task-relevant neutral targets in the presence of distracting emotional signals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2009-2026
Number of pages18
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2019



  • Emotions
  • Everyday life scene
  • fMRI
  • Functional connectivity
  • Task relevance
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Histology

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