Emotional perception: meta-analyses of face and natural scene processing

Neuroimage. 2011 Feb 1;54(3):2524-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.10.011. Epub 2010 Oct 14.


Functional imaging studies of emotional processing typically contain neutral control conditions that serve to remove simple effects of visual perception, thus revealing the additional emotional process. Here we seek to identify similarities and differences across 100 studies of emotional face processing and 57 studies of emotional scene processing, using a coordinate-based meta-analysis technique. The overlay of significant meta-analyses resulted in extensive overlap in clusters, coupled with offset and unique clusters of reliable activity. The area of greatest overlap is the amygdala, followed by regions of medial prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal/orbitofrontal cortex, inferior temporal cortex, and extrastriate occipital cortex. Emotional face-specific clusters were identified in regions known to be involved in face processing, including anterior fusiform gyrus and middle temporal gyrus, and emotional scene studies were uniquely associated with lateral occipital cortex, as well as pulvinar and the medial dorsal nucleus of the thalamus. One global result of the meta-analysis reveals that a class of visual stimuli (faces vs. scenes) has a considerable impact on the resulting emotion effects, even after removing the basic visual perception effects through subtractive contrasts. Pure effects of emotion may thus be difficult to remove for the particular class of stimuli employed in an experimental paradigm. Whether a researcher chooses to tightly control the various elements of the emotional stimuli, as with posed face photographs, or allow variety and environmental realism into their evocative stimuli, as with natural scenes, will depend on the desired generalizability of their results.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Face*
  • Facial Expression
  • Fear / psychology
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Social Perception*