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.