JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Distributed and interactive brain mechanisms during emotion face perception: evidence from functional neuroimaging

Patrik Vuilleumier, Gilles Pourtois
Neuropsychologia 2007 January 7, 45 (1): 174-94
16854439
Brain imaging studies in humans have shown that face processing in several areas is modulated by the affective significance of faces, particularly with fearful expressions, but also with other social signals such gaze direction. Here we review haemodynamic and electrical neuroimaging results indicating that activity in the face-selective fusiform cortex may be enhanced by emotional (fearful) expressions, without explicit voluntary control, and presumably through direct feedback connections from the amygdala. fMRI studies show that these increased responses in fusiform cortex to fearful faces are abolished by amygdala damage in the ipsilateral hemisphere, despite preserved effects of voluntary attention on fusiform; whereas emotional increases can still arise despite deficits in attention or awareness following parietal damage, and appear relatively unaffected by pharmacological increases in cholinergic stimulation. Fear-related modulations of face processing driven by amygdala signals may implicate not only fusiform cortex, but also earlier visual areas in occipital cortex (e.g., V1) and other distant regions involved in social, cognitive, or somatic responses (e.g., superior temporal sulcus, cingulate, or parietal areas). In the temporal domain, evoked-potentials show a widespread time-course of emotional face perception, with some increases in the amplitude of responses recorded over both occipital and frontal regions for fearful relative to neutral faces (as well as in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, when using intracranial recordings), but with different latencies post-stimulus onset. Early emotional responses may arise around 120ms, prior to a full visual categorization stage indexed by the face-selective N170 component, possibly reflecting rapid emotion processing based on crude visual cues in faces. Other electrical components arise at later latencies and involve more sustained activities, probably generated in associative or supramodal brain areas, and resulting in part from the modulatory signals received from amygdala. Altogether, these fMRI and ERP results demonstrate that emotion face perception is a complex process that cannot be related to a single neural event taking place in a single brain regions, but rather implicates an interactive network with distributed activity in time and space. Moreover, although traditional models in cognitive neuropsychology have often considered that facial expression and facial identity are processed along two separate pathways, evidence from fMRI and ERPs suggests instead that emotional processing can strongly affect brain systems responsible for face recognition and memory. The functional implications of these interactions remain to be fully explored, but might play an important role in the normal development of face processing skills and in some neuropsychiatric disorders.

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