How do you perceive threat? It's all in your pattern of brain activity
Brain Imaging and Behavior
Whether subtle differences in the emotional context during threat perception can be detected by multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) remains a topic of debate. To investigate this question, we compared the ability of pattern recognition analysis to discriminate between patterns of brain activity to a threatening versus a physically paired neutral stimulus in two different emotional contexts (the stimulus being directed towards or away from the viewer). The directionality of the stimuli is known
... o be an important factor in activating different defensive responses. Using multiple kernel learning (MKL) classification models, we accurately discriminated patterns of brain activation to threat versus neutral stimuli in the directed towards context but not during the directed away context. Furthermore, we investigated whether it was possible to decode an individual's subjective threat perception from patterns of whole-brain activity to threatening stimuli in the different emotional contexts using MKL regression models. Interestingly, we were able to accurately predict the subjective threat perception index from the pattern of brain activation to threat only during the directed away context. These results show that subtle differences in the emotional context during threat perception can be detected by MVPA. In the directed towards context, the threat perception was more intense, potentially producing more homogeneous patterns of brain activation across individuals. In the directed away context, the threat perception was relatively less intense and more variable across individuals, enabling the regression model to successfully capture the individual differences and predict the subjective threat perception.