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Emotion Recognition Deficits Associated With Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Lesions Are Improved by Gaze Manipulation


Emotion Recognition Deficits Associated With Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Lesions Are Improved by Gaze Manipulation

Richard C Wolf et al. Cortex.


Facial emotion recognition is a critical aspect of human communication. Since abnormalities in facial emotion recognition are associated with social and affective impairment in a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions, identifying the neural substrates and psychological processes underlying facial emotion recognition will help advance basic and translational research on social-affective function. Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) has recently been implicated in deploying visual attention to the eyes of emotional faces, although there is mixed evidence regarding the importance of this brain region for recognition accuracy. In the present study of neurological patients with vmPFC damage, we used an emotion recognition task with morphed facial expressions of varying intensities to determine (1) whether vmPFC is essential for emotion recognition accuracy, and (2) whether instructed attention to the eyes of faces would be sufficient to improve any accuracy deficits. We found that vmPFC lesion patients are impaired, relative to neurologically healthy adults, at recognizing moderate intensity expressions of anger and that recognition accuracy can be improved by providing instructions of where to fixate. These results suggest that vmPFC may be important for the recognition of facial emotion through a role in guiding visual attention to emotionally salient regions of faces.

Keywords: Emotion recognition; Facial expression; Lesion; Neuropsychology; Prefrontal cortex.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


Fig. 1–
Fig. 1–
vmPFC lesion overlap. Color indicates the number of overlapping lesions at each voxel.
Fig. 2–
Fig. 2–
Group effects of free viewing moderate intensity fear and anger. Left panel: there were no group differences for recognition of moderate intensity fear in the free viewing condition. Right panel: vmPFC lesion patients had lower recognition accuracy than either comparison group. *p < .05,p < .1.
Fig. 3–
Fig. 3–
Moderate intensity anger recognition across groups and conditions. There was no moderate intensity anger recognition accuracy improvement in the attend-to-eyes condition relative to the free viewing condition for either healthy comparison subjects (left panel) or BDC patients (middle panel). Ventromedial PFC lesion patients' free viewing moderate intensity anger recognition impairment was rescued to normal in the attend-to-eyes condition. *p < .05, **p < .01.

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