Explicit and implicit neural mechanisms for processing of social information from facial expressions: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Hum Brain Mapp. 2000 Feb;9(2):93-105. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0193(200002)9:2<93::AID-HBM4>3.0.CO;2-Z.


The processing of changing nonverbal social signals such as facial expressions is poorly understood, and it is unknown if different pathways are activated during effortful (explicit), compared to implicit, processing of facial expressions. Thus we used fMRI to determine which brain areas subserve processing of high-valence expressions and if distinct brain areas are activated when facial expressions are processed explicitly or implicitly. Nine healthy volunteers were scanned (1.5T GE Signa with ANMR, TE/TR 40/3,000 ms) during two similar experiments in which blocks of mixed happy and angry facial expressions ("on" condition) were alternated with blocks of neutral faces (control "off" condition). Experiment 1 examined explicit processing of expressions by requiring subjects to attend to, and judge, facial expression. Experiment 2 examined implicit processing of expressions by requiring subjects to attend to, and judge, facial gender, which was counterbalanced in both experimental conditions. Processing of facial expressions significantly increased regional blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) activity in fusiform and middle temporal gyri, hippocampus, amygdalohippocampal junction, and pulvinar nucleus. Explicit processing evoked significantly more activity in temporal lobe cortex than implicit processing, whereas implicit processing evoked significantly greater activity in amygdala region. Mixed high-valence facial expressions are processed within temporal lobe visual cortex, thalamus, and amygdalohippocampal complex. Also, neural substrates for explicit and implicit processing of facial expressions are dissociable: explicit processing activates temporal lobe cortex, whereas implicit processing activates amygdala region. Our findings confirm a neuroanatomical dissociation between conscious and unconscious processing of emotional information.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Social Perception*


  • Oxygen