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Priming emotional facial expressions as evidenced by event-related brain potentials

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K Werheid, G Alpay, Ines Jentzsch, W Sommer

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As human faces are important social signals in everyday life, processing of facial affect has recently entered into the focus of neuroscientific research. In the present study, priming of faces showing the same emotional expression was measured with the help of event-related potentials (ERPs) in order to investigate the temporal characteristics of processing facial expressions. Participants classified portraits of unfamiliar persons according to their emotional expression (happy or angry). The portraits were either preceded by the face of a different person expressing the same affect (primed) or the opposite affect (unprimed). ERPs revealed both early and late priming effects, independent of stimulus valence. The early priming effect was characterized by attenuated frontal ER-P amplitudes between 100 and 200 ms in response to primed targets. Its dipole sources were localised in the inferior occipitotemporal cortex, possibly related to the detection of expression-specific facial configurations, and in the insular cortex, considered to be involved in affective processes. The late priming effect, an enhancement of the late positive potential (LPP) following unprimed targets, may evidence greater relevance attributed to a change of emotional expressions. Our results (i) point to the view that a change of affect-related facial configuration can be detected very early during face perception and (ii) support previous findings on the amplitude of the late positive potential being rather related to arousal than to the specific valence of an emotional signal. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-219
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2005

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