Faces convey a multitude of information in social interaction, among which are trustworthiness and attractiveness. Humans process and evaluate these two dimensions very quickly due to their great adaptive importance. Trustworthiness evaluation is crucial for modulating behavior toward strangers; attractiveness evaluation is a crucial factor for mate selection, possibly providing cues for reproductive success. As both dimensions rapidly guide social behavior, this study tests the hypothesis that both judgments may be subserved by overlapping brain networks. To this end, we conducted an activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis on 16 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies pertaining to facial judgments of trustworthiness and attractiveness. Throughout combined, individual, and conjunction analyses on those two facial judgments, we observed consistent maxima in the amygdala which corroborates our initial hypothesis. This finding supports the contemporary paradigm shift extending the amygdala's role from dominantly processing negative emotional stimuli to processing socially relevant ones. We speculate that the amygdala filters sensory information with evolutionarily conserved relevance. Our data suggest that such a role includes not only "fight-or-flight" decisions but also social behaviors with longer term pay-off schedules, e.g., trustworthiness and attractiveness evaluation.
© Springer-Verlag 2010