Neuropsychological aspects of facial asymmetry during emotional expression: a review of the normal adult literature

Neuropsychol Rev. 1997 Mar;7(1):41-60. doi: 10.1007/BF02876972.


This review focuses on facial asymmetries during emotional expression. Facial asymmetry is defined as the expression intensity or muscular involvement on one side of the face ("hemiface") relative to the other side and has been used as a behavioral index of hemispheric specialization for facial emotional expression. This paper presents a history of the neuropsychological study of facial asymmetry, originating with Darwin. Both quantitative and qualitative aspects of asymmetry are addressed. Next, neuroanatomical bases for facial expression are elucidated, separately for posed/voluntary and spontaneous/involuntary elicitation conditions. This is followed by a comprehensive review of 49 experiments of facial asymmetry in the adult literature, oriented around emotional valence (pleasantness/unpleasantness), elicitation condition, facial part, social display rules, and demographic factors. Results of this review indicate that the left hemiface is more involved than the right hemiface in the expression of facial emotion. From a neuropsychological perspective, these findings implicate the right cerebral hemisphere as dominant for the facial expression of emotion. In spite of the compelling evidence for right-hemispheric specialization, some data point to the possibility of differential hemispheric involvement as a function of emotional valence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Face
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Volition / physiology