Common modulation of limbic network activation underlies musical emotions as they unfold.

Feeling the real world: Limbic response to music depends on related content.

The role of the amygdala in signaling prospective outcome of choice.

Key Publications

Portraying neural substrates that underlie human emotions as they unfold

In this theme we pursuit the broad basic scientific question; "What is an Emotion?" by examining the neural underpinnings of various mental processes, such as perception, evaluation, and action, that together comprise what we as humans experience as emotions.


It has been widely acknowledged that emotional processing is not restricted to the limbic circuit, and is rather widely distributed among networks involved in a variety of functions, including perception, attention/awareness allocation, intentionality, motivational decision making and execution of actions. This has been demonstrated in our extended work linking emotions and facial perception (Rotshtein... Hendler, 2002), selective attention (Siman-Tov... Hendler, 2009) awareness

(Lerner... Hendler, 2012), intentionality (Eldar... Hendler, 2007), motivation (Kahn... Hendler, 2002) and more recently specific states such as, uncertainty (Zaretzy... Hendler, 2009), pain-expectancy (Ziv... Hendler, 2010), eyes-closed (Lerner... Hendler, 2009), mind-wandering (Gruberger... Hendler, 2012) and sleep deprivation (Ben-Simon... Hendler, 2015).


In addition, the growing evidence from brain imaging studies suggests that emotional experiences dynamically emerge through biased processing established between multiple system domains (e.g. negative valence, positive valence and cognitive control systems). To portray these system level dynamics, we use continuous naturalistic emotional stimuli, such as movie clips, musical excerpts and interactive computerized games. Using such paradigms allows us to examine the unfolding dynamics of distributed brain responses to stimuli, along with continuous self-reports of the emotional experience (Kinreich... Hendler, 2011).

Using this approach with movie clips revealed intriguing patterns of intra- and inter-network functional organization (termed; Network Cohesiveness Index, NCI), which clearly marked distinct changes in various emotional experiences as they unfolded. In particular, we found that networks known to be involved in affective and cognitive empathic processing, inverse their patterns of connectivity as depicted by the NCI, during the viewing of movie clips at peak moments when experiencing different types of sadness (Raz... Hendler, 2012)(Raz... Hendler, 2014), (Raz, Hendler and Shpigelman 2017) , (see pics 1,2).

This specific network dynamic may also be associated with mental disorders that exhibit an impaired ability to relate to others such as autism and schizophrenia (in submission).












Using emotional music, we revealed that the limbic network is most commonly correlated with modulation of arousal-gated valence as continuously reported by individuals while listening to music excerpts. In contrast, the left fronto-parietal system (corresponding with the 'action-perception system') correlated with feelings found only among individuals with prior musical experience (at least 5 years experience playing a musical instrument), suggesting its involvement in the acquired aspect of the emotional experience when listening to music (Singer... Hendler, 2016) (see pics 3, 4). Our lab has also advanced new analytic tools that can depict the causality in dynamic network organization using a graph approach (Jacobe…Hendler and Ben Jacob 2016). Using this analysis tool we are currently examining the interplay between reactivity and regulation networks during the processing of emotion provoking face stimuli (in submission).

In an attempt to portray the neural coding of inter-personal emotional experiences we further employed the Ultimatum Game (UG), a well known paradigm in which individuals are presented with a series of "unfair" predicaments that requires an immediate decision (to accept or reject the unfair offer). In our modified version of the UG, individuals play, while in the fMRI; in order to increase emotionality we induce anger through realistic interpersonal interactions with an opponent (sitting outside the scanner), before each new offer is made (Gilam... Hendler, 2015) (see pics 5,6).  We found that in response to unfair predicaments, individuals with a greater ability to regulate their emotions in response to unfair offers, exhibited increased ventromedial PFC (vmPFC) activity, along with decreased Locus Ceruleus (LC) activity. The on-line emotion regulation needed during high-gain decision making, caused opposing activity in emotion regulation and reactivity based systems. We thus concluded that under anger provoking situations these system interplay to support socially prone behavior. This work exhibits our recent effort to study human brains interaction with the environment including social-political contexts. We believe that under these complex interactive scenarios individual differences may be more evident and validly deciphered (Gilam and Hendler, 2016, review).

Using other interactive game situation, we successfully depicted the dynamics of motivation systems with regards to goal directed behavior during risky situations, reward and punishment sensitivity and responsiveness.  By employing computational modeling (DCM) we delineated causality in a set of networks proposed to be related to motivational tendencies that drive goal directed behavior in animals (Gonen, 2012) (see pic 7). This study has shown that it is possible to use animal models to understand elementary processes in human motivation.

5. Gilam... Hendler, 2015

5. Gilam... Hendler, 2015

(A) The experimental design of one round in our modified-UG. Each round began with a fixation period, supposedly the time in which the proposer decided how to split the sum of 20 Israeli New Shekel (ILS). Participants then saw the offer, decided whether to accept or reject and then viewed the result of their decision. Verbal negotiations followed and began when a fictitious picture appeared, supposedly belonging to the other player.

6. Gilam... Hendler, 2015

6. Gilam... Hendler, 2015

(A) Gain-groups main effect (GLM with random effects, n = 54) found activity in a ventral region of the PFC (vmPFC; x, y, z = 14, 49, − 12) and in the brainstem (BS; x, y, z = − 7, − 35, − 18) illustrated at a threshold of p < 0.005 (uncorrected) and a minimal cluster size of 10 contiguous functional voxels. vmPFC activity (left) increased and BS activity (right) decreased with participants' increased total-gain.

7. Gonen, 2012

7. Gonen, 2012

A Model comparison. Each comparison refers to one subgraph, consisting of four models with the same architecture (i.e., effective and modulatory connections), defined by different motivational states as inputs: (1) common effects, (2) conflict, (3) punishment, and (4) reward.

From animal model to human brain networking: dynamic causal modeling of motivational systems.

Psychophysiological Whole-Brain Network Clustering Based on Connectivity Dynamics Analysis in Naturalistic Conditions.

Portraying emotions at their unfolding: a multilayered approach for probing dynamics of neural networks.

Neural substrates underlying the tendency to accept anger-infused ultimatum offers during dynamic social interactions

Feeling or features: Different sensitivity to emotion in high-order visual cortex and amygdala.

With love, from me to you: Embedding social interactions in affective neuroscience.


Talma Hendler (MD PhD) is a professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, and the founding director of the Sagol Brain Institute Tel-Aviv. Professor Hendler holds an MD from Tel Aviv University and a PhD from SUNY at Stony Brook, NY. and is a licensed psychiatrist in Israel. 

Prof. Hendler leads the #Neuropsychiatry & Neuromodulation research team and an associated investigator of all the other 6 research teams at the Sagol Brain Institute.

1. Raz, Hendler and Shpigelman 2017

1. Raz, Hendler and Shpigelman 2017

Movies as emotional stimuli

2. Raz, Hendler and Shpigelman 2017

2. Raz, Hendler and Shpigelman 2017

An illustration of the sensitivity of the network cohesion index to phasic coupling of signals. Each of colored lines represents the Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) time course of a node in a specific network defined based on prior knowledge.

3.  Singer... Hendler, 2016

3. Singer... Hendler, 2016

(a, b) BOLD signals were extracted from 332 distinct parcels per participant and normalized to baseline. (c) Estimation of the common activation was obtained by calculating the Dynamic Common Activation (DCA) index in each parcel and time point as the one-sample t-statistic across participants. (d) Ten distinct networks were extracted by applying iClust algorithm using the mean of DCA similarity (i.e., correlation) matrices from the two listening sessions.

4. Singer... Hendler, 2016

4. Singer... Hendler, 2016

The illustrated mediation model depicts a significant indirect path from Limbic-DCA to reported experience of valence under high arousal through the processing of (a) beat strength in Ligeti and (b) tempo in Glass.