Emotions in motion: dynamic compared to static facial expressions of disgust and happiness reveal more widespread emotion-specific activations

Sina Alexa Trautmann, Thorsten Fehr, Manfred Herrmann
Brain Research 2009 August 11, 1284: 100-15
In social contexts, facial expressions are dynamic in nature and vary rapidly in relation to situational requirements. However, there are very few fMRI studies using dynamic emotional stimuli. The aim of this study was (1) to introduce and evaluate a new stimulus database of static and dynamic emotional facial expressions according to arousal and recognizability investigated by a rating by both participants of the present fMRI study and by an external sample of 30 healthy women, (2) to examine the neural networks involved in emotion perception of static and dynamic facial stimuli separately, and (3) to examine the impact of motion on the emotional processing of dynamic compared to static face stimuli. A total of 16 females participated in the present fMRI study performing a passive emotion perception task including static and dynamic faces of neutral, happy and disgusted expressions. Comparing dynamic stimuli to static faces indicated enhanced emotion-specific brain activation patterns in the parahippocampal gyrus (PHG) including the amygdala (AMG), fusiform gyrus (FG), superior temporal gyrus (STG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), and occipital and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). These regions have been discussed to be associated with emotional memory encoding, the perception of threat, facial identity, biological motion, the mirror neuron system, an increase of emotional arousal, and reward processing, respectively. Post hoc ratings of the dynamic stimuli revealed a better recognizability in comparison to the static stimuli. In conclusion, dynamic facial expressions might provide a more appropriate approach to examine the processing of emotional face perception than static stimuli.

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