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Activation of the hippocampus during emotional learning

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  • Clinical Psychology
  • Hippocampus (Brain)
  • Cognitive Psychology


The current study examined the role of the hippocampus in emotional memory encoding using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Previous studies suggested that the hippocampus plays a role in memory encoding, but consistent hippocampal activation remains elusive. There is intense clinical interest in using fMRI to evaluate memory functioning, especially in pre-surgical patients with intractable seizure disorder. Currently, these patients receive the intracarotid amytal test (IAT) to evaluate which hemisphere is more responsible for memory function. However, the IAT procedure is invasive and lacks reliability and consistency across treatment centers. An fMRI replacement for the IAT might well be a less invasive, more reliable alternative. The present study examined the activation patterns associated with words and pictures with high emotional tone and contrasted them with patterns associated with emotionally neutral stimuli. Twelve healthy participants (N= 12) were scanned while viewing the items and asked to try and remember them. Results revealed significant activation in the temporal and frontal lobes for emotional and neutral stimuli. Analysis of the temporal lobe showed greater in activation in the left hippocampus for emotional words and the right hippocampus for emotional pictures compared to neutral stimuli. The increased activation was consistent with our hypothesis that emotional pictures and words would produce greater activation than neutral pictures and words. A gender analysis revealed that females showed significant activation for emotional pictures and words, while males did not.

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