The human body odor compound androstadienone increases neural conflict coupled to higher behavioral costs during an emotional Stroop task
The androgen derivative androstadienone (AND) is a substance found in human sweat and thus may act as human chemosignal. With the current experiment, we aimed to explore in which way AND affects interference processing during an emotional Stroop task which used human faces as target and emotional words as distractor stimuli. This was complemented by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to unravel the neural mechanism of AND-action. Based on previous accounts we expected AND to increase neural activation in areas commonly implicated in evaluation of emotional face processing and to change neural activation in brain regions linked to interference processing. For this aim, a total of 80 healthy individuals (oral contraceptive users, luteal women, men) were tested twice on two consecutive days with an emotional Stroop task using fMRI. Our results suggest that AND increases interference processing in brain areas that are heavily recruited during emotional conflict. At the same time, correlation analyses revealed that this neural interference processing was paralleled by higher behavioral costs (response times) with higher interference related brain activation under AND. Furthermore, AND elicited higher activation in regions implicated in emotional face processing including right fusiform gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus and dorsomedial cortex. In this connection, neural activation was not coupled to behavioral outcome. Furthermore, despite previous accounts of increased hypothalamic activation under AND, we were not able to replicate this finding and discuss possible reasons for this discrepancy. To conclude, AND increased interference processing in regions heavily recruited during emotional conflict which was coupled to higher costs in resolving emotional conflicts with stronger interference-related brain activation under AND. At the moment it remains unclear whether these effects are due to changes in conflict detection or resolution. However, evidence most consistently suggests that AND does not draw attention to the most potent socio-emotional information (human faces) but rather highlights representations of emotional words.