How the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex controls affective processing in absence of visual awareness – Insights from a combined EEG-rTMS study

Kati Keuper, Esslin L. Terrighena, Chetwyn C.H. Chan (Corresponding Author), Markus Junghoefer, Tatia M.C. Lee

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) plays a key role in the modulation of affective processing. However, its specific role in the regulation of neurocognitive processes underlying the interplay of affective perception and visual awareness has remained largely unclear. Using a mixed factorial design, this study investigated effects of inhibitory continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) of the right DLPFC (rDLPFC) compared to an Active Control condition on behavioral (N = 48) and electroencephalographic (N = 38) correlates of affective processing in healthy Chinese participants. Event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to passively viewed subliminal and supraliminal negative and neutral natural scenes were recorded before and after cTBS application. We applied minimum-norm approaches to estimate the corresponding neuronal sources. On a behavioral level, we found evidence for reduced emotional interference by, and less negative and aroused ratings of negative supraliminal stimuli following rDLPFC inhibition. We found no evidence for stimulation effects on self-reported mood or the behavioral discrimination of subliminal stimuli. On a neurophysiological level, rDLPFC inhibition relatively enhanced occipito-parietal brain activity for both subliminal and supraliminal negative compared to neutral images (112–268 ms; 320–380 ms). The early onset and localization of these effects suggests that rDLPFC inhibition boosts automatic processes of “emotional attention” independently of visual awareness. Further, our study reveals the first available evidence for a differential influence of rDLPFC inhibition on subliminal versus supraliminal neural emotion processing. Explicitly, our findings indicate that rDLPFC inhibition selectively enhances late (292–360 ms) activity in response to supraliminal negative images. We tentatively suggest that this differential frontal activity likely reflects enhanced awareness-dependent down-regulation of negative scene processing, eventually leading to facilitated disengagement from and less negative and aroused evaluations of negative supraliminal stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Article number412
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2018


  • Awareness
  • DlPFC
  • EEG
  • Emotion perception
  • ERP
  • RTMS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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