Previous research has delineated the networks of brain structures involved in the perception of emotional auditory stimuli. These include the amygdala, insula, and auditory cortices, as well as frontal-lobe, basal ganglia, and cerebellar structures involved in the planning and execution of motoric behaviors. The aim of the current research was to examine whether emotional sounds also influence activity in the brainstem and cervical spinal cord. Seventeen undergraduate participants completed a spinal functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study consisting of two fMRI runs. One run consisted of three one-minute blocks of aversive sounds taken from the International Affective Digitized Sounds (IADS) stimulus set; these blocks were interleaved by 40-s rest periods. The other block consisted of emotionally neutral stimuli also drawn from the IADS. The results indicated a stark pattern of lateralization. Aversive sounds elicited greater activity than neutral sounds in the right midbrain and brainstem, and in right dorsal and ventral regions of the cervical spinal cord. Neutral stimuli, on the other hand, elicited less neural activity than aversive sounds overall; these responses were left lateralized and were found in the medial midbrain and the dorsal sensory regions of the cervical spinal cord. Together, these results demonstrate that aversive auditory stimuli elicit increased sensorimotor responses in brainstem and cervical spinal cord structures.
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