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Different brain activity in response to emotional faces alone and augmented by contextual information

Authors

  • Kyung Hwa Lee,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Address correspondence to: Kyung Hwa Lee, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA. E-mail: khl3@pitt.edu

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  • Greg J. Siegle

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    2. Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • This research was supported by NARSAD, MH064159, MH082998, and the University of Pittsburgh Pilot Neuroimaging Program. Kyung Hwa Lee is now at Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We gratefully acknowledge contributions of the volunteers who participated in this study as well as Lisa Farace, Agnes Haggerty, Emilie Mulley, and Thomas Kraynak for their help with data collection and proofreading.

Abstract

This study examined the extent to which emotional face stimuli differ from the neural reactivity associated with more ecological contextually augmented stimuli. Participants were scanned when they viewed contextually rich pictures depicting both emotional faces and context, and pictures of emotional faces presented alone. Emotional faces alone were more strongly associated with brain activity in paralimbic and social information processing regions, whereas emotional faces augmented by context were associated with increased and sustained activity in regions potentially representing increased complexity and subjective emotional experience. Furthermore, context effects were modulated by emotional intensity and valence. These findings suggest that cortical elaboration that is apparent in contextually augmented stimuli may be missed in studies of emotional faces alone, whereas emotional faces may more selectively recruit limbic reactivity.

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