Neural dynamics in response to affective stimuli are linked to momentary emotional experiences. The amygdala, in particular, is involved in subjective emotional experience and assigning value to neutral stimuli. Because amygdala activity persistence following aversive events varies across individuals, some may evaluate subsequent neutral stimuli more negatively than others. This may lead to more frequent and long-lasting momentary emotional experiences, which may also be linked to self evaluative measures of psychological well-being (PWB). Despite extant links between daily affect and PWB, few studies have directly explored the links between amygdala persistence, daily affective experience, and PWB. To that end, we examined data from 52 human adults (67% female) in the Midlife in the United States study who completed measures of PWB, daily affect, and functional MRI (fMRI). During fMRI, participants viewed affective images followed by a neutral facial expression, permitting quantification of individual differences in the similarity of amygdala representations of affective stimuli and neutral facial expressions that follow. Using representational similarity analysis, neural persistence following aversive stimuli was operationalized as similarity between the amygdala activation patterns while encoding negative images and the neutral facial expressions shown afterward. Individuals demonstrating less persistent activation patterns in the left amygdala to aversive stimuli reported more positive and less negative affect in daily life. Further, daily positive affect served as an indirect link between left amygdala persistence and PWB. These results clarify important connections between individual differences in brain function, daily experiences of affect, and well-being.
Linking Amygdala Persistence to Real-World Emotional Experience and Psychological Well-Being
Nikki A. Puccetti, Stacey M. Schaefer, Carien M. van Reekum, Anthony D. Ong, David M. Almeida, Carol D. Ryff, Richard J. Davidson, and Aaron S. Heller