Distributed affective space represents multiple emotion categories across the human brain

Heini Saarimäki*, Lara Farzaneh Ejtehadian, Enrico Glerean, Iiro P. Jääskeläinen, Patrik Vuilleumier, Mikko Sams, Lauri Nummenmaa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


The functional organization of human emotion systems as well as their neuroanatomical basis and segregation in the brain remains unresolved. Here, we used pattern classification and hierarchical clustering to characterize the organization of a wide array of emotion categories in the human brain. We induced 14 emotions (6 'basic', e.g. fear and anger; and 8 'nonbasic', e.g. shame and gratitude) and a neutral state using guided mental imagery while participants' brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Twelve out of 14 emotions could be reliably classified from the haemodynamic signals. All emotions engaged a multitude of brain areas, primarily in midline cortices including anterior and posterior cingulate gyri and precuneus, in subcortical regions, and in motor regions including cerebellum and premotor cortex. Similarity of subjective emotional experiences was associated with similarity of the corresponding neural activation patterns. We conclude that different basic and non-basic emotions have distinguishable neural bases characterized by specific, distributed activation patterns in widespread cortical and subcortical circuits. Regionally differentiated engagement of these circuits defines the unique neural activity pattern and the corresponding subjective feeling associated with each emotion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-482
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Emotion
  • fMRI
  • MVPA
  • Pattern classification


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