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Brain Res. 2007 May 11;1145:128-37. Epub 2006 Dec 22.

The neural mechanism of imagining facial affective expression.

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Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Konyang University, 685 Gasoowon-Dong, Seo-Gu, Daejeon, and Republic of Korea.


To react appropriately in social relationships, we have a tendency to simulate how others think of us through mental imagery. In particular, simulating other people's facial affective expressions through imagery in social situations enables us to enact vivid affective responses, which may be inducible from other people's affective responses that are predicted as results of our mental imagery of future behaviors. Therefore, this ability is an important cognitive feature of diverse advanced social cognition in humans. We used functional magnetic imaging to examine brain activation during the imagery of emotional facial expressions as compared to neutral facial expressions. Twenty-one right-handed subjects participated in this study. We observed the activation of the amygdala during the imagining of emotional facial affect versus the imagining of neutral facial affects. In addition, we also observed the activation of several areas of the brain, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, ventral premotor cortex, superior temporal sulcus, parahippocampal gyrus, lingual gyrus, and the midbrain. Our results suggest that the areas of the brain known to be involved in the actual perception of affective facial expressions are also implicated in the imagery of affective facial expressions. In particular, given that the processing of information concerning the facial patterning of different emotions and the enactment of behavioral responses, such as autonomic arousal, are central components of the imagery of emotional facial expressions, we postulate the central role of the amygdala in the imagery of emotional facial expressions.

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