Toward using more ecologically valid emotion displays in brain research: A functional neuroimaging study of the Communication of Affect Receiving Ability Test

Date of Completion

January 2009


Biology, Neuroscience|Psychology, Psychobiology|Psychology, Social|Speech Communication




This research used spontaneously generated, dynamic emotion displays in an experimental task for brain imaging, and produced theoretically meaningful results in the limbic system and right hemisphere neocortical areas associated with action simulation. The Communication of Affect Receiving Ability Test (CARAT), an instrument that consists of 40 ten-second videos of senders displaying four different types of affect, was given to 38 subjects in the fMRI scanner. Subjects were asked to judge if the sender was viewing someone familiar, something scenic, something unpleasant, or something unusual. Results of a conjunction analysis of hemodynamic responses to the four categories versus a resting baseline showed that there was activation of limbic system circuits in the amygdala-hippocampal area, insula, and anterior cingulate for all categories, as well as right hemisphere activation in the temporal-parietal junction and premotor area/inferior frontal gyrus. Results also showed that when the neutral category (Scenic) was subtracted from the Familiar, Unpleasant, and Unusual categories, there were distinct patterns of limbic system and neocortical activation unique to each. The discussion considers how these patterns of activation add to what is currently known about the way the brain processes emotion displays, and how the use of a more naturalistic display may have influenced the results. Implications for future research on empathy are reviewed. ^