Decoding of affective facial expressions in the context of emotional situations
Monika Sommera, Katrin Döhnela, Jörg Meinhardtb and Göran Hajaka
Neuropsychologia Volume 46, Issue 11, September 2008, Pages 2615-2621
Background: The ability to recognize other persons’ affective states and to link these with aspects of the current situation arises early in development and is precursor functions of a Theory of Mind (ToM). Until now, studies investigated either the processing of affective faces or affective pictures.
Methods: In the present study, we tried to realize a scenario more similar to every day situations. We employed fMRI and used a picture matching task to explore the neural correlates associated with the integration and decoding of facial affective expressions in the context of affective situations. In the emotion condition, the participants judged an emotional facial expression with respect to the content of an emotional picture. In the two other conditions, participants indicated colour matches on the background of either affective or scrambled pictures.
Results: In contrast to colour matching on scrambled pictures, colour matching on emotional pictures resulted in longer reaction times and increased activation of the bilateral fusiform and occipital gyrus. These results indicated that, although task irrelevant, participants may attend to the emotional background of the pictures. The emotion task was associated with higher reaction times and with activation of the bilateral fusiform and occipital gyrus. Additionally, emotion attribution induced left amygdala activity. Possibly, attention processes and amygdala projections modulated the activation found in the occipital and fusiform areas. Furthermore, the involvement of the amygdala in the ToM precursor ability to link facial expressions with an emotional situation may indicate that the amygdala is involved in the development of stable ToM abilities.