Eye Movements and Hemodynamic Response during Emotional Scene Processing: Exploring the Role of Visual Perception in Intrusive Mental Imagery
Roldan, Stephanie Marie
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Unwanted and distressing visual imagery is a persistent and emotionally taxing symptom characteristic of several mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Intrusive imagery symptoms have been linked to maladaptive memory formation, abnormal visual cortical activity during viewing, gaze pattern deficits, and trait characteristics of mental imagery. Emotional valence of visual stimuli has been shown to alter perceptual processes that influence the direction of attention to visual information, which may result in enhanced attention to suboptimal and generalizable visual properties. This study tested the hypothesis that aberrant gaze patterns to central and peripheral image regions influence the formation of decontextualized visual details which may facilitate involuntary and emotionally negative mental imagery experiences following a stressful or traumatic event. Gaze patterns and hemodynamic response from occipital cortical locations were recorded while healthy participants (N = 39) viewed and imagined scenes with negative or neutral emotional valence. Self-report behavioral assessments of baseline vividness of visual imagery and various cognitive factors were combined with these physiological measures to investigate the potential relationship between visual perception and mental recreation of negative scenes. Results revealed significant effects of task and valence conditions on specific fixation measures and hemodynamic response patterns in ventral visual areas, which interacted with cognitive factors such as imagery vividness and familiarity. Findings further suggest that behaviors observed during mental imagery reveal processes related to representational formation over and above perceptual performance and may be applied to the study of disorders such as PTSD.
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