A neurocognitive model of perceptual decision-making on emotional signals

Hum Brain Mapp. 2020 Apr 15;41(6):1532-1556. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24893. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


Humans make various kinds of decisions about which emotions they perceive from others. Although it might seem like a split-second phenomenon, deliberating over which emotions we perceive unfolds across several stages of decisional processing. Neurocognitive models of general perception postulate that our brain first extracts sensory information about the world then integrates these data into a percept and lastly interprets it. The aim of the present study was to build an evidence-based neurocognitive model of perceptual decision-making on others' emotions. We conducted a series of meta-analyses of neuroimaging data spanning 30 years on the explicit evaluations of others' emotional expressions. We find that emotion perception is rather an umbrella term for various perception paradigms, each with distinct neural structures that underline task-related cognitive demands. Furthermore, the left amygdala was responsive across all classes of decisional paradigms, regardless of task-related demands. Based on these observations, we propose a neurocognitive model that outlines the information flow in the brain needed for a successful evaluation of and decisions on other individuals' emotions. HIGHLIGHTS: Emotion classification involves heterogeneous perception and decision-making tasks Decision-making processes on emotions rarely covered by existing emotions theories We propose an evidence-based neuro-cognitive model of decision-making on emotions Bilateral brain processes for nonverbal decisions, left brain processes for verbal decisions Left amygdala involved in any kind of decision on emotions.

Keywords: amygdala; decision-making; emotion; fMRI; neural network; perception.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Perception / physiology*