Converging evidence for the advantage of dynamic facial expressions

Brain Topogr. 2011 Jun;24(2):149-63. doi: 10.1007/s10548-011-0171-4. Epub 2011 Feb 25.


Neuroimaging evidence suggests that dynamic facial expressions elicit greater activity than static face stimuli in brain structures associated with social cognition, interpreted as greater ecological validity. However, a quantitative meta-analysis of brain activity associated with dynamic facial expressions is lacking. The current study investigated, using three fMRI experiments, activity elicited by (a) dynamic and static happy faces, (b) dynamic and static happy and angry faces, and (c) dynamic faces and dynamic flowers. In addition, using activation likelihood estimate (ALE) meta-analysis, we determined areas concordant across published studies that (a) used dynamic faces and (b) specifically compared dynamic and static emotional faces. The middle temporal gyri (Experiment 1) and superior temporal sulci (STS; Experiment 1 and 2) were more active for dynamic than static faces. In contrasts with the baseline the amygdalae were more active for dynamic faces (Experiment 1 and 2) and the fusiform gyri were active for all conditions (all Experiments). The ALE meta-analyses revealed concordant activation in all of these regions as well as in areas associated with cognitive manipulations (inferior frontal gyri). Converging data from the experiments and the meta-analyses suggest that dynamic facial stimuli elicit increased activity in regions associated with interpretation of social signals and emotional processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult