Seeing fearful body expressions activates the fusiform cortex and amygdala

Curr Biol. 2003 Dec 16;13(24):2201-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2003.11.049.


Darwin's evolutionary approach to organisms' emotional states attributes a prominent role to expressions of emotion in whole-body actions. Researchers in social psychology [1,2] and human development [3] have long emphasized the fact that emotional states are expressed through body movement, but cognitive neuroscientists have almost exclusively considered isolated facial expressions (for review, see [4]). Here we used high-field fMRI to determine the underlying neural mechanisms of perception of body expression of emotion. Subjects were presented with short blocks of body expressions of fear alternating with short blocks of emotionally neutral meaningful body gestures. All images had internal facial features blurred out to avoid confounds due to a face or facial expression. We show that exposure to body expressions of fear, as opposed to neutral body postures, activates the fusiform gyrus and the amygdala. The fact that these two areas have previously been associated with the processing of faces and facial expressions [5-8] suggests synergies between facial and body-action expressions of emotion. Our findings open a new area of investigation of the role of body expressions of emotion in adaptive behavior as well as the relation between processes of emotion recognition in the face and in the body.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Kinesics
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Photic Stimulation