Brain systems for assessing the affective value of faces

Christopher P. Said, James V. Haxby, Alexander Todorov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Cognitive neuroscience research on facial expression recognition and face evaluation has prolifer- ated over the past 15 years. Nevertheless, large questions remain unanswered. In this overview, we discuss the current understanding in the field, and describe what is known and what remains unknown. In §2, we describe three types of behavioural evidence that the perception of traits in neutral faces is related to the perception of facial expressions, and may rely on the same mechanisms. In §3, we discuss cortical systems for the perception of facial expressions, and argue for a partial segregation of function in the superior temporal sulcus and the fusiform gyrus. In §4, we describe the current understanding of how the brain responds to emotionally neutral faces. To resolve some of the inconsistencies in the literature, we perform a large group analysis across three different studies, and argue that one parsimonious explanation of prior findings is that faces are coded in terms of their typicality. In §5, we discuss how these two lines of research-perception of emotional expressions and face evaluation-could be integrated into a common, cognitive neuroscience framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1660-1670
Number of pages11
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1571
StatePublished - Jun 12 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Face
  • Social cognition


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