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Ewww-Investigating the neural basis of disgust in response to naturalistic and pictorial nauseating stimuli

Publication year 2023
Published in Frontiers in Psychiatry
Authors Gesa Berretz, Canan Dutschke, Elodie Leonard, J. Packheiser

Emotion induction in psychological and neuroscientific research has been mostly done by presenting participants with picture or film material. However, it is debatable whether this passive approach to emotion induction results in an affective state comparable to real-life emotions, and if the neural correlates of emotion processing are ecologically valid. To investigate the appropriateness of pictures for the induction of emotions, we presented 56 participants in a within-subjects design with naturalistic disgusting and neutral stimuli as well as with pictures of said stimulus material while recording continuous EEG data. We calculated asymmetry indices (AIs) for alpha power as an index of emotion processing and emotion regulation at the F3/4, F5/6, F7/8, and O1/2 electrode pairs. Participants reported higher disgust ratings for disgusting naturalistic compared to disgusting pictorial stimuli. Investigating changes in the EEG signal in participants with a pronounced disgust response (n = 38), we found smaller AIs for naturalistic stimuli compared to pictures. Moreover, in this disgusted sub-sample, there were smaller AIs in response to naturalistic disgusting stimuli compared to pictorial disgusting and neutral stimuli at the O1/2 electrode pair indicating stronger activation of the right relative to the left hemisphere by naturalistic stimuli. As the right hemisphere has been shown to display dominance in processing negative and withdrawal-associated emotions, this might indicate that naturalistic stimuli are more appropriate for the induction of emotions than picture stimuli. To improve the validity of results from emotion induction, future research should incorporate stimulus material that is as naturalistic as possible.

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