Early brain responses to affective faces: A simultaneous EEG-fMRI study
Abstract The spatio-temporal neural basis of earliest differentiation between emotional and neutral facial expressions is a matter of debate. The present study used concurrent electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in order to investigate the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of earliest prioritization of emotional over neutral expressions. We measured event-related potentials (ERPs) and blood oxygen dependent (BOLD) signal changes in response to facial expressions of varying emotional intensity and different valence categories. Facial expressions were presented superimposed by two horizontal bars and participants engaged in a focal bars task (low load, high load), in order to manipulate the availability of attentional resources during face perception. EEG data revealed the earliest expression effects in the P1 range (76–128 ms) as a parametric function of stimulus arousal independent of load conditions. Conventional fMRI data analysis also demonstrated significant modulations as a function of stimulus arousal, independent of load, in amygdala, superior temporal sulcus, fusiform gyrus and lateral occipital cortex. Correspondingly, EEG-informed fMRI analysis revealed a significant positive correlation between single-trial P1 amplitudes and BOLD responses in amygdala and lateral posterior occipital cortex. Our results are in line with the hypothesis of the amygdala as fast responding relevance detector and corresponding effects in early visual face processing areas across facial expressions and load conditions.