fMRI of sensitization to angry faces

Strauss MM, Makris N, Aharon I, Vangel MG, Goodman J, Kennedy DN, Gasic GP, Breiter HC

Neuroimage 2005 Jun;26(2):389-413

PMID: 15907298


This study examined what is communicated by facial expressions of anger and mapped the neural substrates, evaluating the motivational salience of these stimuli. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, angry and neutral faces were presented to human subjects. Across experimental runs, signal adaptation was observed. Whereas fearful faces have reproducibly evoked response habituation in amygdala and prefrontal cortex, angry faces evoked sensitization in the insula, cingulate, thalamus, basal ganglia, and hippocampus. Complementary offline rating and keypress experiments determined an aversive rank ordering of angry, fearful, neutral, and happy faces and revealed behavioral sensitization to the angry faces. Subjects rated angry faces, in contrast to other face categories such as fear, as significantly more likely to directly inflict harm. Furthermore, they rated angry faces as significantly less likely to produce positive emotional outcomes than the other face categories. Together these data argue that angry faces, a directly aversive stimulus, produce a sensitization response.