Task-invariant brain responses to the social value of faces

J Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Oct;23(10):2766-81. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2011.21616. Epub 2011 Jan 21.


In two fMRI experiments (n = 44) using tasks with different demands-approach-avoidance versus one-back recognition decisions-we measured the responses to the social value of faces. The face stimuli were produced by a parametric model of face evaluation that reduces multiple social evaluations to two orthogonal dimensions of valence and power [Oosterhof, N. N., & Todorov, A. The functional basis of face evaluation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 105, 11087-11092, 2008]. Independent of the task, the response within regions of the occipital, fusiform, and lateral prefrontal cortices was sensitive to the valence dimension, with larger responses to low-valence faces. Additionally, there were extensive quadratic responses in the fusiform gyri and dorsal amygdala, with larger responses to faces at the extremes of the face valence continuum than faces in the middle. In all these regions, participants' avoidance decisions correlated with brain responses, with faces more likely to be avoided evoking stronger responses. The findings suggest that both explicit and implicit face evaluation engage multiple brain regions involved in attention, affect, and decision making.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Face
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Judgment
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Social Values*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen