The neural underpinnings of facial emotion recognition in ischemic stroke patients

J Neuropsychol. 2021 Sep;15(3):516-532. doi: 10.1111/jnp.12240. Epub 2021 Feb 8.


Deficits in facial emotion recognition occur frequently after stroke, with adverse social and behavioural consequences. The aim of this study was to investigate the neural underpinnings of the recognition of emotional expressions, in particular of the distinct basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise). A group of 110 ischaemic stroke patients with lesions in (sub)cortical areas of the cerebrum was included. Emotion recognition was assessed with the Ekman 60 Faces Test of the FEEST. Patient data were compared to data of 162 matched healthy controls (HC's). For the patients, whole brain voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping (VLSM) on 3-Tesla MRI images was performed. Results showed that patients performed significantly worse than HC's on both overall recognition of emotions, and specifically of disgust, fear, sadness and surprise. VLSM showed significant lesion-symptom associations for FEEST total in the right fronto-temporal region. Additionally, VLSM for the distinct emotions showed, apart from overlapping brain regions (insula, putamen and Rolandic operculum), also regions related to specific emotions. These were: middle and superior temporal gyrus (anger); caudate nucleus (disgust); superior corona radiate white matter tract, superior longitudinal fasciculus and middle frontal gyrus (happiness) and inferior frontal gyrus (sadness). Our findings help in understanding how lesions in specific brain regions can selectively affect the recognition of the basic emotions.

Keywords: basic emotions; cerebrovascular accident; facial emotion recognition; ischaemic stroke; voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Ischemia* / complications
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Stroke*
  • Stroke* / complications