Uncertainty during anticipation modulates neural responses to aversion in human insula and amygdala

I. Sarinopoulos, D. W. Grupe, K. L. Mackiewicz, J. D. Herrington, M. Lor, E. E. Steege, J. B. Nitschke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Scopus citations


Uncertainty about potential negative future outcomes can cause stress and is a central feature of anxiety disorders. The stress and anxiety associated with uncertain situations may lead individuals to overestimate the frequency with which uncertain cues are followed by negative outcomes, an example of covariation bias. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that uncertainty-related expectations modulated neural responses to aversion. Insula and amygdala responses to aversive pictures were larger after an uncertain cue (that preceded aversive or neutral pictures) than a certain cue (that always preceded aversive pictures). Anticipatory anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity elicited by the cues was inversely associated with the insula and amygdala responses to aversive pictures following the cues. Nearly 75% of subjects overestimated the frequency of aversive pictures following uncertain cues, and ACC and insula activity predicted this uncertainty-related covariation bias. Findings provide the first evidence of the brain mechanisms of covariation bias and highlight the temporal dynamics of ACC, insula, and amygdala recruitment for processing aversion in the context of uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-940
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Covariation bias
  • Emotion
  • Expectancy
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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