Previous neuroimaging studies on empathy have not clearly identified neural systems that support the three components of empathy: affective congruence, perspective-taking, and prosocial motivation. These limitations stem from a focus on a single emotion per study, minimal variation in amount of social context provided, and lack of prosocial motivation assessment. In the current investigation, 32 participants completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging session assessing empathic responses to individuals experiencing painful, anxious, and happy events that varied in valence and amount of social context provided. They also completed a 14-day experience sampling survey that assessed real-world helping behaviors. The results demonstrate that empathy for positive and negative emotions selectively activates regions associated with positive and negative affect, respectively. In addition, the mirror system was more active during empathy for context-independent events (pain), whereas the mentalizing system was more active during empathy for context-dependent events (anxiety, happiness). Finally, the septal area, previously linked to prosocial motivation, was the only region that was commonly activated across empathy for pain, anxiety, and happiness. Septal activity during each of these empathic experiences was predictive of daily helping. These findings suggest that empathy has multiple input pathways, produces affect-congruent activations, and results in septally mediated prosocial motivation.
empathy; prosocial behavior; septal area
Anorexia nervosa (AN) patients exhibit a disparity in their actual physical identity and their cognitive understanding of their physical identity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tasks have contributed to understanding the neural circuitry involved in processing identity in healthy individuals. We hypothesized that women recovering from AN would show altered neural responses while thinking about their identity compared with healthy control women. We compared brain activation using fMRI in 18 women recovering from anorexia (RAN) and 18 healthy control women (CON) using two identity-appraisal tasks. These neuroimaging tasks were focused on separable components of identity: one consisted of adjectives related to social activities and the other consisted of physical descriptive phrases about one’s appearance. Both tasks consisted of reading and responding to statements with three different perspectives: Self, Friend and Reflected. In the comparisons of the RAN and CON subjects, we observed differences in fMRI activation relating to self-knowledge (‘I am’, ‘I look’) and perspective-taking (‘I believe’, ‘Friend believes’) in the precuneus, two areas of the dorsal anterior cingulate, and the left middle frontal gyrus. These data suggest that further exploration of neural components related to identity may improve our understanding of the pathology of AN.
mentalization; identity; precuneus; eating disorders; cingulate
Psychopathy is a disorder characterized by reduced empathy, shallow affect and behaviors that cause victims distress, like threats, bullying and violence. Neuroimaging research in both institutionalized and community samples implicates amygdala dysfunction in the etiology of psychopathic traits. Reduced amygdala responsiveness may disrupt processing of fear-relevant stimuli like fearful facial expressions. The present study links amygdala dysfunction in response to fear-relevant stimuli to the willingness of individuals with psychopathic traits to cause fear in other people. Thirty-three healthy adult participants varying in psychopathic traits underwent whole-brain fMRI scanning while they viewed statements that selectively evoke anger, disgust, fear, happiness or sadness. During scanning, participants judged whether it is morally acceptable to make each statement to another person. Psychopathy was associated with reduced activity in right amygdala during judgments of fear-evoking statements and with more lenient moral judgments about causing fear. No group differences in amygdala function or moral judgments emerged for other emotion categories. Psychopathy was also associated with increased activity in middle frontal gyrus (BA 10) during the task. These results implicate amygdala dysfunction in impaired judgments about causing distress in psychopathy and suggest that atypical amygdala responses to fear in psychopathy extend across multiple classes of stimuli.
psychopathy; amygdala; moral judgment; fear; empathy; antisocial
Our life is full of stories: some of them depict real-life events and were reported, e.g. in the daily news or in autobiographies, whereas other stories, as often presented to us in movies and novels, are fictional. However, we have only little insights in the neurocognitive processes underlying the reading of factual as compared to fictional contents. We investigated the neurocognitive effects of reading short narratives, labeled to be either factual or fictional. Reading in a factual mode engaged an activation pattern suggesting an action-based reconstruction of the events depicted in a story. This process seems to be past-oriented and leads to shorter reaction times at the behavioral level. In contrast, the brain activation patterns corresponding to reading fiction seem to reflect a constructive simulation of what might have happened. This is in line with studies on imagination of possible past or future events.
emotion; emotion regulation; fact; fiction; fMRI; literature; narrative; reading; theory of mind
Rational decision making under uncertainty requires forming beliefs that integrate prior and new information through Bayes’ rule. Human decision makers typically deviate from Bayesian updating by either overweighting the prior (conservatism) or overweighting new information (e.g. the representativeness heuristic). We investigated these deviations through measurements of electrocortical activity in the human brain during incentivized probability-updating tasks and found evidence of extremely early commitment to boundedly rational heuristics. Participants who overweight new information display a lower sensibility to conflict detection, captured by an event-related potential (the N2) observed around 260 ms after the presentation of new information. Conservative decision makers (who overweight prior probabilities) make up their mind before new information is presented, as indicated by the lateralized readiness potential in the brain. That is, they do not inhibit the processing of new information but rather immediately rely on the prior for making a decision.
Bayesian updating; conservatism; representativeness heuristic; LRP; N2
The neuroendocrine state of new mothers may alter their neural processing of stressors in the environment through modulatory actions of oxytocin on the limbic system. We predicted that amygdala sensitivity to negatively arousing stimuli would be suppressed in postpartum compared to nulliparous women and that this suppression would be modulated by administration of oxytocin nasal spray. We measured brain activation (fMRI) and subjective arousal in response to negatively arousing pictures in 29 postpartum and 30 nulliparous women who received either oxytocin nasal spray or placebo before scanning. Pre- and post-exposure urinary cortisol levels were also measured. Postpartum women (placebo) demonstrated lower right amygdala activation in response to negative images, lower cortisol and lower negative photo arousal ratings to nulliparous women. Nulliparous women receiving oxytocin had lower right amygdala activation compared to placebo. Cortisol levels in the placebo group, and ratings of arousal across all women, were positively associated with right amygdala activation. Together, these findings demonstrate reductions in both amygdala activation and subjective negative arousal in untreated postpartum vs nulliparous women, supporting the hypothesis of an attenuated neural response to arousing stimuli in postpartum women. A causal role of oxytocin and the timing of potential effects require future investigation.
postpartum; oxytocin; arousal; amygdale; cortisol
We used event-related potentials (ERPs) to tap the temporal dynamics of first impressions based on face appearance. Participants were asked to evaluate briefly presented faces for trustworthiness and political choice. Behaviorally, participants were better at discriminating faces that were pre-rated as untrustworthy. The ERP results showed that the P100 component was enhanced for untrustworthy faces, consistently with the view that signals of potential threat are given precedence in neural processing. The enhanced ERP responses to untrustworthy faces persisted throughout the processing sequence and the amplitude of early posterior negativity (EPN), and subsequent late positive potential (LPP) was increased with respect to trustworthy faces which, in contrast, elicited an enhanced positivity around 150 ms on frontal sites. These ERP patterns were found specifically for the trustworthiness evaluation and not for the political decision task. Political decision yielded an increase in the N170 amplitude, reflecting a more demanding and taxing structural encoding. Similar ERP responses, as previously reported in the literature for facial expressions processing, were found throughout the entire time course specifically elicited by faces explicitly judged as untrustworthy. One possibility might be that evolution has provided the brain with a ‘special toolkit’ for trust evaluation that is fast and triggers ERPs related to emotional processing.
face perception; emotion; trustworthiness; event-related potentials
Western cultures encourage self-construals independent of social contexts, whereas East Asian cultures foster interdependent self-construals that rely on how others perceive the self. How are culturally specific self-construals mediated by the human brain? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we monitored neural responses from adults in East Asian (Chinese) and Western (Danish) cultural contexts during judgments of social, mental and physical attributes of themselves and public figures to assess cultural influences on self-referential processing of personal attributes in different dimensions. We found that judgments of self vs a public figure elicited greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in Danish than in Chinese participants regardless of attribute dimensions for judgments. However, self-judgments of social attributes induced greater activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) in Chinese than in Danish participants. Moreover, the group difference in TPJ activity was mediated by a measure of a cultural value (i.e. interdependence of self-construal). Our findings suggest that individuals in different sociocultural contexts may learn and/or adopt distinct strategies for self-reflection by changing the weight of the mPFC and TPJ in the social brain network.
culture; self; fMRI; medial prefrontal cortex; temporoparietal junction
In healthy individuals, direct eye contact initially leads to activation of a fast subcortical pathway, which then modulates a cortical route eliciting social cognitive processes. The aim of this study was to gain insight into the neurobiological effects of direct eye-to-eye contact using a virtual reality paradigm in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to prolonged childhood abuse. We examined 16 healthy comparison subjects and 16 patients with a primary diagnosis of PTSD using a virtual reality functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm involving direct vs averted gaze (happy, sad, neutral) as developed by Schrammel et al. in 2009. Irrespective of the displayed emotion, controls exhibited an increased blood oxygenation level-dependent response during direct vs averted gaze within the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, left temporoparietal junction and right temporal pole. Under the same conditions, individuals with PTSD showed increased activation within the superior colliculus (SC)/periaqueductal gray (PAG) and locus coeruleus. Our findings suggest that healthy controls react to the exposure of direct gaze with an activation of a cortical route that enhances evaluative ‘top–down’ processes underlying social interactions. In individuals with PTSD, however, direct gaze leads to sustained activation of a subcortical route of eye-contact processing, an innate alarm system involving the SC and the underlying circuits of the PAG.
PTSD; social cognition; fMRI; childhood abuse; dorsomedial prefrontal cortex; superior colliculus
Human beings constantly engage in attributing causal explanations to one’s own and to others’ actions, and theory-of-mind (ToM) is critical in making such inferences. Although children learn causal attribution early in development, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are known to have impairments in the development of intentional causality. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) study investigated the neural correlates of physical and intentional causal attribution in people with ASDs. In the fMRI scanner, 15 adolescents and adults with ASDs and 15 age- and IQ-matched typically developing peers made causal judgments about comic strips presented randomly in an event-related design. All participants showed robust activation in bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus at the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) in response to intentional causality. Participants with ASDs showed lower activation in TPJ, right inferior frontal gyrus and left premotor cortex. Significantly weaker functional connectivity was also found in the ASD group between TPJ and motor areas during intentional causality. DTI data revealed significantly reduced fractional anisotropy in ASD participants in white matter underlying the temporal lobe. In addition to underscoring the role of TPJ in ToM, this study found an interaction between motor simulation and mentalizing systems in intentional causal attribution and its possible discord in autism.
functional MRI; theory-of-mind; intentional causality; physical causality; causal attribution; diffusion tensor imaging; fractional anisotropy; functional connectivity; autism
The right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) is a neural region involved in assessing the goals and intentions underlying the motion of social agents. Recent research has identified visual cues, such as chasing, that trigger animacy detection and intention attribution. When readily available in a visual display, these cues reliably activate the pSTS. Here, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined if attributing intentions to random motion would likewise engage the pSTS. Participants viewed displays of four moving circles and were instructed to search for chasing or mirror-correlated motion. On chasing trials, one circle chased another circle, invoking the percept of an intentional agent; while on correlated motion trials, one circle’s motion was mirror reflected by another. On the remaining trials, all circles moved randomly. As expected, pSTS activation was greater when participants searched for chasing vs correlated motion when these cues were present in the displays. Of critical importance, pSTS activation was also greater when participants searched for chasing compared to mirror-correlated motion when the displays in both search conditions were statistically identical random motion. We conclude that pSTS activity associated with intention attribution can be invoked by top–down processes in the absence of reliable visual cues for intentionality.
fMRI; posterior superior temporal sulcus; intention attribution; biological motion; social perception
Social cognition provides humans with the necessary skills to understand and interact with one another. One aspect of social cognition, mentalizing, is associated with a network of brain regions often referred to as the ‘social brain.’ These consist of medial prefrontal cortex [medial Brodmann Area 10 (mBA10)], temporoparietal junction (TPJ), posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and anterior temporal cortex (ATC). How these specific regions develop structurally across late childhood and adolescence is not well established. This study examined the structural developmental trajectories of social brain regions in the longest ongoing longitudinal neuroimaging study of human brain maturation. Structural trajectories of grey matter volume, cortical thickness and surface area were analyzed using surface-based cortical reconstruction software and mixed modeling in a longitudinal sample of 288 participants (ages 7–30 years, 857 total scans). Grey matter volume and cortical thickness in mBA10, TPJ and pSTS decreased from childhood into the early twenties. The ATC increased in grey matter volume until adolescence and in cortical thickness until early adulthood. Surface area for each region followed a cubic trajectory, peaking in early or pre-adolescence before decreasing into the early twenties. These results are discussed in the context of developmental changes in social cognition across adolescence.
adolescence; brain development; MRI; social cognition; mentalizing
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are often associated with impairments in judgment of facial expressions. This impairment is often accompanied by diminished eye contact and atypical amygdala responses to face stimuli. The current study used a within-subjects design to examine the effects of natural viewing and an experimental eye-gaze manipulation on amygdala responses to faces. Individuals with ASD showed less gaze toward the eye region of faces relative to a control group. Among individuals with ASD, reduced eye gaze was associated with higher threat ratings of neutral faces. Amygdala signal was elevated in the ASD group relative to controls. This elevated response was further potentiated by experimentally manipulating gaze to the eye region. Potentiation by the gaze manipulation was largest for those individuals who exhibited the least amount of naturally occurring gaze toward the eye region and was associated with their subjective threat ratings. Effects were largest for neutral faces, highlighting the importance of examining neutral faces in the pathophysiology of autism and questioning their use as control stimuli with this population. Overall, our findings provide support for the notion that gaze direction modulates affective response to faces in ASD.
fMRI; amygdala; face expressions; autism spectrum disorders; eye-tracking
Two empathy-related processes were recently distinguished neuroscientifically: automatic embodied-simulation (ES) based on visceromotor representation of another’s affective state via cingulo-insulary circuit, and emotional sharing relying on cognitive ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) via prefrontal-temporo-parietal circuit. Evidence that these regions are not only activated but also function as networks during empathic experience has yet to been shown. Employing a novel approach by analyzing fMRI fluctuations of network cohesion while viewing films portraying personal loss, this study demonstrates increased connectivity during empathic engagement (probed by behavioral and parasympathetic indices) both within these circuits, and between them and a set of limbic regions. Notably, this effect was context-dependent: when witnessing as a determined-loss presented as a future event, the ToM and ToM-limbic cohesion positively correlated with state- and empathy indices. During the dramatic peak of this condition, the ToM cohesion was positively correlated with the trait-empathy index of personal distress. However, when the loss was presented as a probabilistic real-time occurrence, ToM cohesion negatively correlated with state-empathy index, which positively correlated with ES-limbic cohesion. In this case, it was the ES-limbic cohesion during the emotional peak which was correlated with personal distress scores. The findings indicate a dichotomy between regulated empathy toward determined-loss and vicarious empathy toward a real-time occurrence.
embodied simulation; emotion regulation; functional connectivity; network dynamics; theory of mind
Recent evidence points to two separate systems for empathy: a vicarious sharing emotional system that supports our ability to share emotions and mental states and a cognitive system that involves cognitive understanding of the perspective of others. Several recent models offer new evidence regarding the brain regions involved in these systems, but no study till date has examined how regions within each system dynamically interact. The study by Raz et al. in this issue of Social, Cognitive, & Affective Neuroscience is among the first to use a novel approach of functional magnetic resonance imaging analysis of fluctuations in network cohesion while an individual is experiencing empathy. Their results substantiate the approach positing two empathy mechanisms and, more broadly, demonstrate how dynamic analysis of emotions can further our understanding of social behavior.
Cooperation and betrayal are universal features of social interactions, and knowing who to trust is vital in human society. Previous studies have identified brain regions engaged by decision making during social encounters, but the mechanisms supporting modification of future behaviour by utilizing social experience are not well characterized. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we show that cooperation and betrayal during social exchanges elicit specific patterns of neural activity associated with future behaviour. Unanticipated cooperation leads to greater behavioural adaptation than unexpected betrayal, and is signalled by specific neural responses in the striatum and midbrain. Neural responses to betrayal and willingness to trust novel partners both decrease as the number of individuals encountered during repeated social encounters increases. We propose that, as social groups increase in size, uncooperative or untrustworthy behaviour becomes progressively less surprising, with cooperation becoming increasingly important as a stimulus for social learning. Effects on reputation of non-trusting decisions may also act to drive pro-social behaviour. Our findings characterize the dynamic neural processes underlying social adaptation, and suggest that the brain is optimized to cooperate with trustworthy partners, rather than avoiding those who might betray us.
cooperation; trust; learning; neuroeconomics; fMRI
Repetition has long been known to facilitate memory performance, but its effects on event-related potentials (ERPs), measured as an index of recognition memory, are less well characterized. In Experiment 1, effects of both massed and distributed repetition on old–new ERPs were assessed during an immediate recognition test that followed incidental encoding of natural scenes that also varied in emotionality. Distributed repetition at encoding enhanced both memory performance and the amplitude of an old–new ERP difference over centro-parietal sensors. To assess whether these repetition effects reflect encoding or retrieval differences, the recognition task was replaced with passive viewing of old and new pictures in Experiment 2. In the absence of an explicit recognition task, ERPs were completely unaffected by repetition at encoding, and only emotional pictures prompted a modestly enhanced old–new difference. Taken together, the data suggest that repetition facilitates retrieval processes and that, in the absence of an explicit recognition task, differences in old–new ERPs are only apparent for affective cues.
distributed repetition; recognition memory; emotion; ERPs
Unhappy couple relationships are associated with impaired individual health, an effect thought to be mediated through ongoing couple conflicts. Little is known, however, about the underlying mechanisms regulating psychobiological stress, and particularly autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity, during negative couple interaction. In this study, we tested the effects of the neuropeptide oxytocin on ANS reactivity during couple conflict in a standardized laboratory paradigm. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled design, 47 heterosexual couples (total n = 94) received oxytocin or placebo intranasally prior to instructed couple conflict. Participants’ behavior was videotaped and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), a measure of sympathetic activity, and emotional arousal were repeatedly measured during the experiment. Oxytocin significantly reduced sAA during couple conflict in women, whereas men showed increases in sAA levels (sex × group interaction: B = −49.36, t = −2.68, P = 0.009). In men, these increases were related to augmented emotional arousal (r = 0.286, P = 0.028) and more positive behavior (r = 0.291, P = 0.026), whereas there was no such association in women. Our results imply sex-specific effects of oxytocin on sympathetic activity, to negative couple interaction, with the neuropeptide reducing sAA responses and emotional arousal in women while increasing them in men.
intranasal oxytocin; autonomic nervous system; alpha-amylase; couple conflict; sex-specific
Background: Maternal care (MC) and dopamine modulate brain activity during emotion processing in inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), striatum and amygdala. Reuptake of dopamine from the synapse is performed by the dopamine transporter (DAT), whose abundance is predicted by variation in its gene (DAT 3′VNTR; 10 > 9-repeat alleles). Here, we investigated the interaction between perceived MC and DAT 3′VNTR genotype on brain activity during processing of aversive facial emotional stimuli.
Methods: Sixty-one healthy subjects were genotyped for DAT 3′VNTR and categorized in low and high MC individuals. They underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a task requiring gender discrimination of facial stimuli with angry, fearful or neutral expressions.
Results: An interaction between facial expression, DAT genotype and MC was found in left IFG, such that low MC and homozygosity for the 10-repeat allele are associated with greater activity during processing of fearful faces. This greater activity was also inversely correlated with a measure of emotion control as scored with the Big Five Questionnaire. Moreover, MC and DAT genotype described a double dissociation on functional connectivity between IFG and amygdala.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that perceived early parental bonding may interact with DAT 3′VNTR genotype in modulating brain activity during emotionally relevant inputs.
emotion; dopamine; maternal care; fMRI; amygdala; inferior frontal gyrus
Social categorization is known to be an important part of social cognition. The categorizations we use, despite their multitude, frequently take the form of the general ingroup/outgroup distinction. A meta-analysis of 33 fMRI studies, reporting selective activations to various social groups, was used to identify common neural structures responsible for relational representation of social structure. Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) analysis revealed areas in bilateral amygdala, cingulate gyrus, fusiform gyrus, right TPJ and right insula as implementing various aspects of social categorization. Activation of amygdala can be associated with modulation of behavioral response to subjectively significant stimuli. A more ventral part of anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) can be associated with self-referential reasoning about ingroup members while a more dorsal part of ACC is involved in the regulation of emotions toward outgroup members. Right insula can be engaged in the modulation of outgroup avoidance behavior. Fusiform gyrus (FG) appears to be directly involved in social categorization process via top-down modulation of social perception. Yet it is difficult to associate any of the revealed clusters with the relational ingroup/outgroup structure.
social categorization; in-group; out-group; social structure; social identity
Humans tend to have a positive self-evaluation (PSE). To what extent positive self-perception is interacting with valenced self-related memories is debated. The underlying neural substrates are not adequately explained yet. To explore the cerebral correlates of PSE and its influence on memory, 24 healthy subjects were asked during fMRI to decide in two conditions whether presented positive and negative personality traits characterized their own selves (self-evaluation) or an intimate other (other-evaluation). A lexical condition served as control task. In a subsequent unannounced recognition task, trait adjectives had to be classified as old or new. Activation during positive self- vs positive other-evaluation was found in the medial ventral and dorsolateral prefrontal gyri, the parahippocampus and the supplementary motor area. Memory increased for positive personality traits and traits that had been referred to oneself or the other. In contrast to adjectives of the other-evaluation or lexical condition, recollection of negative vs positive traits of the self-evaluation condition specifically induced increased activation in the hippocampus and several prefrontal and temporal areas. Our data imply a specific network for PSE (although intimate others are perceived similarly). Moreover, memory for traits contradicting PSE resulted in activation increases indicating greater cognitive effort and emotional involvement.
self; emotion; memory; recognition; fMRI
The ability to cognitively regulate emotional responses to aversive events is essential for mental and physical health. One prerequisite of successful emotion regulation is the awareness of emotional states, which in turn is associated with the awareness of bodily signals [interoceptive awareness (IA)]. This study investigated the neural dynamics of reappraisal of emotional responses in 28 participants who differed with respect to IA. Electroencephalography was used to characterize the time course of emotion regulation. We found that reappraisal was accompanied by reduced arousal and significant modulation of late neural responses. What is more, higher IA facilitated downregulation of affect and was associated with more pronounced modulation of underlying neural activity. Therefore, we conclude that IA not only advances the consolidation of somatic markers required for guiding individual behaviour but also creates processing advantages in tasks referring to these bodily markers.
interoception; interoceptive awareness; embodied cognition; emotion regulation; reappraisal; evoked potentials
It is a unique human ability to regulate negative thoughts and feelings. Two well-investigated emotion-regulation strategies (ERSs), cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression, are associated with overlapping prefrontal neural correlates, but differ temporally during the emotion-generation process. Although functional imaging studies have mainly investigated these ERS as a reaction to an emotion-inducing event, the intention to regulate upcoming negative emotions might already be associated with differences in neural activity. Hence, event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging was recorded in 42 participants while they completed an emotion-regulation paradigm. During this task, participants were instructed to proactively prepare to use a specific ERS knowing that a negative, high-arousing image would appear after the preparation period. As expected, the results demonstrated prefrontal and parietal activation while participants were suppressing or reappraising their emotions (family-wise error (FWE)-corrected). The intention to suppress emotions was associated with increased activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus, bilateral putamen, pre-supplementary motor area and right supramarginal gyrus (FWE-corrected). This enhanced proactive inhibitory control: (i) predicted decreased motoric activity during the actual suppression of emotional expressions and (2) trended toward a significant association with how successfully participants suppressed their emotions. However, neural correlates of preparatory control for cognitive reappraisal were not observed, possibly because contextual cues about the upcoming emotional stimulus are necessary to proactively start to cognitively reinterpret the situation.
emotion regulation; cognitive reappraisal; expressive suppression; proactive and reactive control
The N170 event-related potential (ERP) component differentiates faces from non-faces, but studies aimed at investigating whether the processing indexed by this component is also sensitive to racial differences among faces have garnered conflicting results. Here, we explore how task affects the influence of race on the N170 among White participants. N170s were larger to ingroup White faces than outgroup Black faces, but only for those required to attend to race, suggesting that attention to race can result in deeper levels of processing for ingroup members. Conversely, N170s were larger to Black faces than White faces for participants who attended to the unique identity of the faces, suggesting that attention to identity can result in preferential recruitment of cognitive resources for outgroup members. Taken together, these findings suggest that race can differentially impact face processing at early stages of encoding, but differences in processing are contingent upon one’s goal state.
face processing; structural encoding; N170; race of face; ERP
Facial expressions convey important emotional and social information and are frequently applied in investigations of human affective processing. Dynamic faces may provide higher ecological validity to examine perceptual and cognitive processing of facial expressions. Higher order processing of emotional faces was addressed by varying the task and virtual face models systematically. Blood oxygenation level-dependent activation was assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging in 20 healthy volunteers while viewing and evaluating either emotion or gender intensity of dynamic face stimuli. A general linear model analysis revealed that high valence activated a network of motion-responsive areas, indicating that visual motion areas support perceptual coding for the motion-based intensity of facial expressions. The comparison of emotion with gender discrimination task revealed increased activation of inferior parietal lobule, which highlights the involvement of parietal areas in processing of high level features of faces. Dynamic emotional stimuli may help to emphasize functions of the hypothesized ‘extended’ over the ‘core’ system for face processing.
dynamic facial expressions; emotion perception; emotion–cognition interaction; inferior parietal lobule