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

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

Where belief in free will is linked to happiness

January 23, 2017

Western and Asian cultures tend to have different core beliefs around free will. In a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology, Jingguang Li, professor at Dali University, and his research team show the link between ...

Study reveals areas of the brain impacted by PTSD

January 23, 2017

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the VA Boston Healthcare System are one step closer to understanding the specific nature of brain changes associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

For health and happiness, share good news

January 22, 2017

Service members, including both active and recently separated, have been called upon to fight overseas and to assist during natural disasters at home. They can face unique challenges when they return in both the workplace ...

The great unknown—risk-taking behaviour in adolescents

January 19, 2017

Adolescents are more likely to ignore information that could prompt them to rethink risky decisions. This may explain why information campaigns on risky behaviors such as drug abuse tend to have only limited success. These ...

Mandarin makes you more musical?

January 18, 2017

Mandarin makes you more musical - and at a much earlier age than previously thought. That's the suggestion of a new study from the University of California San Diego. But hold on there, overachiever parents, don't' rush just ...

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.