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Liking and left amygdala activity during food versus non-food processing are modulated by emotional context

By Isabel García-García, Jana Kube, Filip Morys, Anne Schrimpf, Ahmad S. Kanaan, Michael Gaebler, Arno Villringer, Alain Dagher, Annette Horstmann, Jane Neumann

Posted 22 Jul 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/707844

Emotions can influence our eating behaviors. Facing an acute stressor or being in a positive mood are examples of situations that tend to modify appetite. However, the question of how the brain integrates these emotion-related changes in food processing remains elusive. Here we designed an emotional priming fMRI task to test if amygdala activity during food pictures differs depending on the emotional context. Fifty-eight female participants completed a novel emotional priming task, in which emotional images of negative, neutral or positive situations were followed by pictures of either foods or objects. After priming in each trial, participants rated how much they liked the shown foods or objects. We analyzed how brain activity during the contrast “foods > objects” changed according to the emotional context – in the whole brain and in the amygdala. We also examined the potential effect of adiposity (i.e., waist circumference). We observed a higher difference between liking scores for foods and objects after positive priming than after neutral priming. In the left amygdala, activity in the contrast “foods > objects” was higher after neutral priming relative to negative priming. Waist circumference was not significantly related to this emotional priming effect on food processing. Our results suggest that emotional context alters food and non-food perception, both in terms of liking scores and with regards to engagement of the left amygdala. Moreover, our findings indicate that emotional context has an impact on the salience advantage of food, possibly affecting eating behavior.

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