Researchers have identified two areas in the brain that are critical for either detecting or distinguishing emotions from facial expressions.
People with damage to these areas cannot understand the wide variety of facial expressions that convey social signals, which are important for anyone trying to navigate their way in society.
Dr. Lesley Fellows, lead investigator, and her student Ami Tsuchida studied a large sample of patients with damage to various regions within the prefrontal cortex (PFC), testing to see where damage had the biggest impact on emotion recognition.
The result of their tests led to conclusions about two sub-regions of the PFC that until now had been little studied.
“Patients with damage to the ventromedial PFC had a hard time distinguishing a neutral facial expression from emotional ones,” said Dr. Fellows.
“Patients with left ventrolateral PFC damage recognized that an emotion was present in the expression, but had difficulty telling one emotion from another.
“The ability to cross-over research and clinical work enables crucial advances in science and medicine, a prime example of the benefits of The Neuro’s integrated model as a combined hospital and research institute,” Dr. Fellows added.
The research adds to our understanding of how our brains detect emotional expressions and interpret the meaning of those expressions.
The findings could help to understand some of the difficulties in social behaviour seen in neuropsychiatric illnesses including certain forms of dementia, autism, or after a traumatic brain injury.
The study has been published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.