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Brain Res. 2007 Aug 29;1166:103-9. Epub 2007 Jul 14.

Differential electrocortical responses to increasing intensities of fearful and happy emotional expressions.

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  • 1Human Information Processing Laboratory, Department of Psychology, FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.


Previous studies have shown differential event-related potentials (ERPs) to fearful and happy/neutral facial expressions. To investigate whether the brain systems underlying these ERP differences are sensitive to the intensity of fear and happiness, behavioral recognition accuracy and reaction times as well as ERPs were measured while observers categorized low-intensity (50%), prototypical (100%), and caricatured (150%) fearful and happy facial expressions. The speed and accuracy of emotion categorization improved with increasing levels of expression intensity, and 100% and 150% expressions were consistently classified as expressions of the intended emotions. Comparison of ERPs to 100% and 150% expressions revealed a differential pattern of ERPs to 100% and 150% fear expressions over occipital-temporal electrodes 190-290 ms post-stimulus (a negative shift in ERP activity for high-intensity fearful expressions). Similar ERP differences were not observed for 100% and 150% happy expressions, ruling out the possibility that the ERPs to high-intensity fear reflected a response to increased expression intensity per se. Together, these results suggest that differential electrocortical responses to fearful facial expressions over posterior electrodes are generated by a neural system that responds to the intensity of negative but not positive emotional expressions.

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