A systematic review of studies that used NIRS to measure neural activation during emotion processing in healthy individuals

Matthew M.P. Westgarth (Corresponding Author), Christy A. Hogan, David L. Neumann, David H.K. Shum

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Functional neuroimaging provides an avenue for earlier diagnosis and tailored treatment of psychological disorders characterised by emotional impairment. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) offers ecological advantages compared to other neuroimaging techniques and suitability of measuring regions involved in emotion functions. A systematic review was conducted to evaluate the capacity of NIRS to detect activation during emotion processing and to provide recommendations for future research. Following a comprehensive literature search, we reviewed 85 journal articles, which compared activation during emotional experience, regulation or perception with either a neutral condition or baseline period among healthy participants. The quantitative synthesis of outcomes was limited to thematical analysis, owing to the lack of standardisation between studies. Although most studies found increased prefrontal activity during emotional experience and regulation, the findings were more inconsistent for emotion perception. Some researchers reported increased activity during the task, some reported decreases, some no significant changes, and some reported mixed findings depending on the valence and region. We propose that variations in the cognitive task and stimuli, recruited sample, and measurement and analysis of data are the primary causes of inconsistency. Recommendations to improve consistency in future research by carefully considering the choice of population, cognitive task and analysis approach are provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-369
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2021


  • emotion
  • near-infrared spectroscopy
  • neuroimaging
  • prefrontal cortex
  • review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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