Why looks can be deceiving: New research points to brain regions that recognize facial expressions

February 13, 2012

It's Valentine's Day, he forgot to bring flowers, and somehow that painfully sad look on her face is simply not registering in his mind. Could be it's a problem in his prefrontal cortex?

Neuropsychology researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro, McGill University, have found that two areas of the (PFC) are critical for either detecting or distinguishing emotions from . People with damage to these areas cannot understand the wide variety of facial expressions that convey social signals, which are important for anyone trying to navigate their way in society. And not only on .

Dr. Lesley Fellows, lead investigator, and her student Ami Tsuchida studied a large sample of patients with damage to various regions within the PFC, testing to see where damage had the biggest impact on emotion recognition. The result of their tests led to conclusions about two sub-regions of the PFC that until now had been little studied.

"Patients with damage to the ventromedial PFC had a hard time distinguishing a neutral facial expression from emotional ones," said Dr. Fellows. "Patients with left ventrolateral PFC damage recognized that an emotion was present in the expression, but had difficulty telling one emotion from another.

"The ability to cross-over research and clinical work enables crucial advances in science and medicine, a prime example of the benefits of The Neuro's integrated model as a combined hospital and research institute," adds Dr. Fellows. The research, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, adds to our understanding of how our brains detect emotional expressions and interpret the meaning of those expressions. The findings could help to understand some of the difficulties in social behaviour seen in neuropsychiatric illnesses including certain forms of dementia, autism, or after a traumatic brain injury.

Explore further: Recognition of anger, fear, disgust most affected in dementia

Related Stories

Recognition of anger, fear, disgust most affected in dementia

October 4, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new study on emotion recognition has shown that people with frontotemporal dementia are more likely to lose the ability to recognise negative emotions, such as anger, fear and disgust, than positive ...

Perception of facial expressions differs across cultures

September 1, 2011
Facial expressions have been called the "universal language of emotion," but people from different cultures perceive happy, sad or angry facial expressions in unique ways, according to new research published by the American ...

Recommended for you

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

Precision medicine opens the door to scientific wellness preventive approaches to suicide

August 15, 2017
Researchers have developed a more precise way of diagnosing suicide risk, by developing blood tests that work in everybody, as well as more personalized blood tests for different subtypes of suicidality that they have newly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.