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Review
. 2011 Jun 12;366(1571):1684-701.
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0362.

Personality Influences the Neural Responses to Viewing Facial Expressions of Emotion

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Free PMC article
Review

Personality Influences the Neural Responses to Viewing Facial Expressions of Emotion

Andrew J Calder et al. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Cognitive research has long been aware of the relationship between individual differences in personality and performance on behavioural tasks. However, within the field of cognitive neuroscience, the way in which such differences manifest at a neural level has received relatively little attention. We review recent research addressing the relationship between personality traits and the neural response to viewing facial signals of emotion. In one section, we discuss work demonstrating the relationship between anxiety and the amygdala response to facial signals of threat. A second section considers research showing that individual differences in reward drive (behavioural activation system), a trait linked to aggression, influence the neural responsivity and connectivity between brain regions implicated in aggression when viewing facial signals of anger. Finally, we address recent criticisms of the correlational approach to fMRI analyses and conclude that when used appropriately, analyses examining the relationship between personality and brain activity provide a useful tool for understanding the neural basis of facial expression processing and emotion processing in general.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Two hypothetical datasets in which the neural response of a particular brain region to a stimulus is positively correlated with a personality variable. (a) A dataset for which a positive correlation is observed in conjunction with a group effect. (b) A dataset for which a positive correlation of equal magnitude is observed in the absence of a group effect.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
An example of a stimulus from the face/house paradigm. Two faces and two houses are presented in horizontal and vertical pairs around a central fixation cross. Participants are required to attend to either the horizontal or vertical images and to ignore the stimuli presented in the unattended location. Adapted from Bishop et al. [22].
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
(a) State anxiety shows a positive relationship with the left amygdala response to fearful faces versus neutral faces across attended and unattended conditions. (b) Amygdala activity to attended fearful (AF) faces versus attended neutral (AN) faces relative to unattended fearful (UF) faces versus unattended neutral (UN) plotted as a function of state anxiety. Participants with higher state anxiety levels showed less attentional modulation of the amygdala response to fearful faces. Adapted from Bishop et al. [22].
Figure 4.
Figure 4.
Trait anxiety shows a positive relationship with the amygdala response to (a) attended angry faces versus attended neutral faces, and (b) unattended fearful faces versus unattended neutral faces. State anxiety shows a positive relationship with the amygdala response to (c) direct gaze angry faces versus direct gaze neutral faces and (d) averted gaze fearful faces versus averted gaze neutral faces. Adapted from Ewbank et al. [36].
Figure 5.
Figure 5.
The activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method was used to identify brain areas showing correlations between anxiety and change in BOLD signal while viewing threat-related facial expressions (fear and anger) across 162 participants from six studies. The most consistently activated areas are displayed on coronal (top) and sagittal (bottom) sections of a T1 MNI template. Correlations with state anxiety are shown in red, correlations with trait anxiety in blue and areas of overlap appear in purple. ALE was performed using GingerALE software [75]. The ALE method quantifies the degree of correspondence in three-dimensional-stereotactic coordinates of activation foci across functional neuroimaging studies, and uses significance thresholds to create statistically defensible conclusions (i.e. inter-study consistencies) about the summarized data. Significantly activated regions (p < 0.05 false discovery rate (FDR) corrected) show a positive correlation with anxiety when viewing angry or fearful faces. The following studies were included in the ALE analysis [–24,35,36,42].
Figure 6.
Figure 6.
(a) A negative correlation between the ventral anterior cingulate response to facial signals of aggression (relative to neutral expressions) and BAS-drive. (b) A positive correlation between the amygdala response to facial signals of aggression (relative to neutral expressions) and BAS-drive. The scatter plots show BOLD signal change for peak-activated voxels for each contrast plotted as a function of participants' BAS-drive scores. Regression lines and 95% confidence intervals are shown. Adapted from Beaver et al. [96].
Figure 7.
Figure 7.
(a) Examples of the angry and neutral faces. (b) Amygdala source region for the psycho-physiological interaction (PPI). R, right hemisphere. (c) PPI statistical parametrical map (SPM) showing that, when viewing angry versus neutral faces, the ventral ACC shows a change in connectivity with the amygdala (source region) that is correlated with individual differences in BAS-drive. (d) Data plot for the PPI shown in panel (c). Participants with higher BAS-drive scores show decreased negative connectivity between the ventral ACC and the amygdala. The regression line and the 95% confidence intervals are shown. Adapted from Passamonti et al. [100].

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