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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Elevated responses to constant facial emotions in different faces in the human amygdala: an fMRI study of facial identity and expression

Jan Gläscher1*, Oliver Tüscher12, Cornelius Weiller1 and Christian Büchel1

Author Affiliations

1 Neuroimage Nord, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistrasse 52, 20246 Hamburg, Germany

2 Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical School of Cornell University, 1300 York Ave, New York, NY, 10021, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2004, 5:45  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-5-45

Published: 17 November 2004

Abstract

Background

Human faces provide important signals in social interactions by inferring two main types of information, individual identity and emotional expression. The ability to readily assess both, the variability and consistency among emotional expressions in different individuals, is central to one's own interpretation of the imminent environment. A factorial design was used to systematically test the interaction of either constant or variable emotional expressions with constant or variable facial identities in areas involved in face processing using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Results

Previous studies suggest a predominant role of the amygdala in the assessment of emotional variability. Here we extend this view by showing that this structure activated to faces with changing identities that display constant emotional expressions. Within this condition, amygdala activation was dependent on the type and intensity of displayed emotion, with significant responses to fearful expressions and, to a lesser extent so to neutral and happy expressions. In contrast, the lateral fusiform gyrus showed a binary pattern of increased activation to changing stimulus features while it was also differentially responsive to the intensity of displayed emotion when processing different facial identities.

Conclusions

These results suggest that the amygdala might serve to detect constant facial emotions in different individuals, complementing its established role for detecting emotional variability.