Affective flexibility: Evaluative processing goals shape amygdala activity: Research article

William A. Cunningham, Jay Van Bavel, Ingrid R. Johnsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although early research implicated the amygdala in automatic processing of negative information, more recent research suggests that it plays a more general role in processing the motivational relevance of various stimuli, suggesting that the relation between valence and amygdala activation may depend on contextual goals. This study provides experimental evidence that the relation between valence and amygdala activity is dynamically modulated by evaluative goals. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants evaluated the positive, negative, or overall (positive plus negative) aspects of famous people. When participants were providing overall evaluations, both positive and negative names were associated with amygdala activation. When they were evaluating positivity, positive names were associated with amygdala activity, and when they were evaluating negativity, negative names were associated with amygdala activity. Evidence for a negativity bias was found; modulation was more pronounced for positive than for negative information. These data suggest that the amygdala flexibly processes motivationally relevant evaluative information in accordance with current processing goals, but processes negative information less flexibly than positive information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-160
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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