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Braz J Med Biol Res. 2008 Apr;41(4):263-9.

Serotonergic modulation of face-emotion recognition.

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  • 1Divisão de Psiquiatria, Departamento de Neurologia, Psiquiatria e Psicologia Médica, Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brasil.


Facial expressions of basic emotions have been widely used to investigate the neural substrates of emotion processing, but little is known about the exact meaning of subjective changes provoked by perceiving facial expressions. Our assumption was that fearful faces would be related to the processing of potential threats, whereas angry faces would be related to the processing of proximal threats. Experimental studies have suggested that serotonin modulates the brain processes underlying defensive responses to environmental threats, facilitating risk assessment behavior elicited by potential threats and inhibiting fight or flight responses to proximal threats. In order to test these predictions about the relationship between fearful and angry faces and defensive behaviors, we carried out a review of the literature about the effects of pharmacological probes that affect 5-HT-mediated neurotransmission on the perception of emotional faces. The hypothesis that angry faces would be processed as a proximal threat and that, as a consequence, their recognition would be impaired by an increase in 5-HT function was not supported by the results reviewed. In contrast, most of the studies that evaluated the behavioral effects of serotonin challenges showed that increased 5-HT neurotransmission facilitates the recognition of fearful faces, whereas its decrease impairs the same performance. These results agree with the hypothesis that fearful faces are processed as potential threats and that 5-HT enhances this brain processing.

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