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Neuroimage. 1996 Dec;4(3 Pt 1):194-200.

Neural activation during covert processing of positive emotional facial expressions.

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Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London, United Kingdom.


Lesion studies indicate distinct neural systems for recognition of facial identity and emotion. Split-brain experiments also suggest that emotional evaluation of a stimulus can occur without conscious identification. The present study tested a hypothesis of a differential neural response, independent of explicit conscious mediation, to emotional compared to nonemotional faces. The experimental paradigm involved holding in mind an image of a face across a 45-s delay while regional cerebral blood flow was measured using positron emission tomography. Prior to the delay, a single face was presented with an explicit instruction to match it to one of two faces, photographed at different angles from the target face, presented at the end of the delay. Repeated blood flow measures were obtained while subjects held happy or neutral faces in mind or during a neutral control fixation condition without initial face presentation. The representation of emotional faces over a delay period, compared to either the nonemotional or the fixation condition, was associated with significant activation in the left ventral prefrontal cortex, the left anterior cingulate cortex, and the right fusiform gyrus. The findings support our hypothesis of a differential neural response to facial emotion, independent of conscious mediation, in regions implicated in the processing of faces and of emotions.

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