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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e40371. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040371. Epub 2012 Jun 29.

Passive and motivated perception of emotional faces: qualitative and quantitative changes in the face processing network.

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Department of Psychology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


Emotionally expressive faces are processed by a distributed network of interacting sub-cortical and cortical brain regions. The components of this network have been identified and described in large part by the stimulus properties to which they are sensitive, but as face processing research matures interest has broadened to also probe dynamic interactions between these regions and top-down influences such as task demand and context. While some research has tested the robustness of affective face processing by restricting available attentional resources, it is not known whether face network processing can be augmented by increased motivation to attend to affective face stimuli. Short videos of people expressing emotions were presented to healthy participants during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Motivation to attend to the videos was manipulated by providing an incentive for improved recall performance. During the motivated condition, there was greater coherence among nodes of the face processing network, more widespread correlation between signal intensity and performance, and selective signal increases in a task-relevant subset of face processing regions, including the posterior superior temporal sulcus and right amygdala. In addition, an unexpected task-related laterality effect was seen in the amygdala. These findings provide strong evidence that motivation augments co-activity among nodes of the face processing network and the impact of neural activity on performance. These within-subject effects highlight the necessity to consider motivation when interpreting neural function in special populations, and to further explore the effect of task demands on face processing in healthy brains.

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