Questions regarding the appropriateness of facial expressions in particular situations arise ubiquitously in everyday social interactions. To determine the appropriateness of facial affect, first of all, we should represent our own or the other's emotional state as induced by the social situation. Then, based on these representations, we should infer the possible affective response of the other person. In this study, we identified the brain mechanism mediating special types of social evaluative judgments of facial affect in which the internal reference is related to theory of mind (ToM) processing. Many previous ToM studies have used non-emotional stimuli, but, because so much valuable social information is conveyed through nonverbal emotional channels, this investigation used emotionally salient visual materials to tap ToM. Fourteen right-handed healthy subjects volunteered for our study. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activation during the judgmental task for the appropriateness of facial affects as opposed to gender matching tasks. We identified activation of a brain network, which includes both medial frontal cortex, left temporal pole, left inferior frontal gyrus, and left thalamus during the judgmental task for appropriateness of facial affect compared to the gender matching task. The results of this study suggest that the brain system involved in ToM plays a key role in judging the appropriateness of facial affect in an emotionally laden situation. In addition, our result supports that common neural substrates are involved in performing diverse kinds of ToM tasks irrespective of perceptual modalities and the emotional salience of test materials.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience