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Unequal impairment in the recognition of positive and negative emotions after right hemisphere lesions: A left hemisphere bias for happy faces


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Tanja C. W. Nijboer, Department of Psychology, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, UK (E-mail:


The processing of several important aspects of a human face was investigated in a single patient (LZ), who had a large infarct of the right hemisphere involving the parietal, and temporal lobes with extensions into the frontal region. LZ showed selective problems with recognizing emotional expressions, whereas she was flawless in recognizing gender, familiarity, and identity. She was very poor in recognizing negative facial expressions (fear, disgust, anger, sadness), but scored as well as the controls on the positive facial expression of happiness. However, in two experiments using both static and dynamic face stimuli, we showed that LZ also did not have a proper notion of what a facial expression of happiness looks like, and could not adequately apply this label. We conclude that the proper recognition of both negative and positive facial expressions relies on the right hemisphere, and that the left hemisphere produces a default state resulting in a bias towards evaluating expressions as happy. We discuss the implications of the current findings for the main models that aim to explain hemispheric specializations for processing of positive and negative emotions.