Explicit and incidental facial expression processing: an fMRI study

Neuroimage. 2001 Aug;14(2):465-73. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0811.


Considerable evidence indicates that processing facial expression involves both subcortical (amygdala and basal ganglia) and cortical (occipito-temporal, orbitofrontal, and prefrontal cortex) structures. However, the specificity of these regions for single types of emotions and for the cognitive demands of expression processing, is still unclear. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the neural correlates of incidental and explicit processing of the emotional content of faces expressing either disgust or happiness. Subjects were examined while they were viewing neutral, disgusted, or happy faces. The incidental task required subjects to decide about face gender, the explicit task to decide about face expression. In the control task subjects were requested to detect a white square in a greyscale mosaic stimulus. Results showed that the left inferior frontal cortex and the bilateral occipito-temporal junction responded equally to all face conditions. Several cortical and subcortical regions were modulated by task type, and by facial expression. Right neostriatum and left amygdala were activated when subjects made explicit judgements of disgust, bilateral orbitofrontal cortex when they made judgement of happiness, and right frontal and insular cortex when they made judgements about any emotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Echo-Planar Imaging
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Social Perception