While hemispheric specialization of language processing is well established, lateralization of emotion processing is still under debate. Several conflicting hypotheses have been proposed, including right hemisphere hypothesis, valence asymmetry hypothesis and region-specific lateralization hypothesis. However, experimental evidence for these hypotheses remains inconclusive, partly because direct comparisons between hemispheres are scarce.
The present fMRI study systematically investigated functional lateralization during affective stimulus processing in 36 healthy participants. We normalized our functional data on a symmetrical template to avoid confounding effects of anatomical asymmetries. Direct comparison of BOLD responses between hemispheres was accomplished taking two approaches: a hypothesis-driven region of interest analysis focusing on brain areas most frequently reported in earlier neuroimaging studies of emotion; and an exploratory whole volume analysis contrasting non-flipped with flipped functional data using paired t-test.
The region of interest analysis revealed lateralization towards the left in the medial prefrontal cortex (BA 10) during positive stimulus processing; while negative stimulus processing was lateralized towards the right in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 9 & 46) and towards the left in the amygdala and uncus. The whole brain analysis yielded similar results and, in addition, revealed lateralization towards the right in the premotor cortex (BA 6) and the temporo-occipital junction (BA 19 & 37) during positive stimulus processing; while negative stimulus processing showed lateralization towards the right in the temporo-parietal junction (BA 37,39,42) and towards the left in the middle temporal gyrus (BA 21).
Our data suggests region-specific functional lateralization of emotion processing. Findings show valence asymmetry for prefrontal cortical areas and left-lateralized negative stimulus processing in subcortical areas, in particular, amygdala and uncus.