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Neuroimage. 2016 Apr 15;130:77-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.01.045. Epub 2016 Jan 28.

Face-selective regions differ in their ability to classify facial expressions.

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Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. Electronic address:
Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Recognition of facial expressions is crucial for effective social interactions. Yet, the extent to which the various face-selective regions in the human brain classify different facial expressions remains unclear. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and support vector machine pattern classification analysis to determine how well face-selective brain regions are able to decode different categories of facial expression. Subjects participated in a slow event-related fMRI experiment in which they were shown 32 face pictures, portraying four different expressions: neutral, fearful, angry, and happy and belonging to eight different identities. Our results showed that only the amygdala and the posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) were able to accurately discriminate between these expressions, albeit in different ways: the amygdala discriminated fearful faces from non-fearful faces, whereas STS discriminated neutral from emotional (fearful, angry and happy) faces. In contrast to these findings on the classification of emotional expression, only the fusiform face area (FFA) and anterior inferior temporal cortex (aIT) could discriminate among the various facial identities. Further, the amygdala and STS were better than FFA and aIT at classifying expression, while FFA and aIT were better than the amygdala and STS at classifying identity. Taken together, our findings indicate that the decoding of facial emotion and facial identity occurs in different neural substrates: the amygdala and STS for the former and FFA and aIT for the latter.



Amygdala; Emotional faces; STS; SVM; fMRI

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