BACKGROUND Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) are characterized by biased perception and processing of potentially threatening stimuli. A hyper-reactivity of the fear-circuit [e.g. amygdala, anterior cingulate (ACC)] has been consistently reported using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in SAD in comparison with healthy controls (HCs). Studies investigating the processing of specific emotional stimuli in OCD reported mainly orbitofrontal-striatal abnormalities. The goal of this study was to examine similar/common and differential neurobiological responses in OCD and SAD using unspecific emotional stimuli. METHOD Fifty-four subjects participated: two groups (each n = 18) of outpatients with a current diagnosis of OCD or SAD, and 18 HCs. All subjects underwent fMRI while anticipating and perceiving unspecific visual stimuli with prior announced emotional valence (e.g. positive). RESULTS Compared to HCs, the combined patient group showed increased activation in amygdala, caudate and prefrontal/orbitofrontal cortex while anticipating unspecific emotional stimuli. Caudate was more active in the combined patient group during perception. A comparison between the OCD and the SAD samples revealed increased amygdala and decreased rostral ACC activation in OCD patients during perception, but no differences in the anticipation phase. CONCLUSIONS Overall, we could identify common fronto-subcortical hyper-reactivity in OCD and SAD while anticipating and perceiving unspecific emotional stimuli. While differential neurobiological responses between OCD and SAD when processing specific stimuli are evident from the literature, differences were less pronounced using unspecific stimuli. This could indicate a disturbance of emotion regulation common to both OCD and SAD.