When anger dominates the mind: Increased motor corticospinal excitability in the face of threat: Direction of threat and motor corticospinal excitability


Threat demands fast and adaptive reactions that are manifested at the physiological, behavioral, and phenomenological level and are responsive to the direction of threat and its severity for the individual. Here, we investigated the effects of threat directed toward or away from the observer on motor corticospinal excitability and explicit recognition. Sixteen healthy right-handed volunteers completed a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) task and a separate three-alternative forced-choice emotion recognition task. Single-pulse TMS to the left primary motor cortex was applied to measure motor evoked potentials from the right abductor pollicis brevis in response to dynamic angry, fearful, and neutral bodily expressions with blurred faces directed toward or away from the observer. Results showed that motor corticospinal excitability increased independent of direction of anger compared with fear and neutral. In contrast, anger was better recognized when directed toward the observer compared with when directed away from the observer, while the opposite pattern was found for fear. The present results provide evidence for the differential effects of threat direction on explicit recognition and motor corticospinal excitability. In the face of threat, motor corticospinal excitability increases independently of the direction of anger, indicative of the importance of more automatic reactions to threat.