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Spectral quality of light modulates emotional brain responses in humans
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Light therapy can be an effective treatment for mood disorders, suggesting that light is able to affect mood state in the long term. As a first step to understand this effect, we hypothesized that light might also acutely influence emotion and tested whether short exposures to light modulate emotional brain responses. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, 17 healthy volunteers listened to emotional and neutral vocal stimuli while being exposed to alternating 40-s periods of blue or green ambient light. Blue (relative to green) light increased responses to emotional stimuli in the voice area of the temporal cortex and in the hippocampus. During emotional processing, the functional connectivity between the voice area, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus was selectively enhanced in the context of blue illumination, which shows that responses to emotional stimulation in the hypothalamus and amygdala are influenced by both the decoding of vocal information in the voice area and the spectral quality of ambient light. These results demonstrate the acute influence of light and its spectral quality on emotional brain processing and identify a unique network merging affective and ambient light information.