Scientists Pinpointed The Region Of Brain That Identifies Facial Expressions

Posted: Apr 20 2016, 9:33pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 20 2016, 10:48pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Pinpointed the Region of Brain that Identifies Facial Expressions
The fMRI image shows activity in the region of brain called posterior superior temporal sulcus when a subject is recognizing a facial expression. Credit: Ohio State Univesity

Using fMRI images, researchers have found the part of the brain that is responsible for decoding various facial expressions.

There is a whole range of expressions we all make such as big smiles on our face when we are happy and forehead frown to show disgust or disapproval, but how do other people know what these facial expressions mean. 

Researchers from Ohio State University have pinpointed the area of the brain that is responsible for recognizing facial expressions and it appears to be located on the right side of the brain behind the ear, in a region called posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS).

For the study, researchers recruited 10 college students and monitored their brain activity as they were shown more than 1000 photographs of people making different facial expressions. The expressions fall into seven emotional categories: disgusted, happily surprised, happily disgusted, angrily surprised, fearfully surprised, sadly fearful and fearfully disgusted.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed increased activity in the region of pSTS when subjects were looking at the images of people with various facial expressions. Researchers have also discovered that within the pSTS there are neural patterns which are assigned to interpret movements in certain parts of the face. For instance, one neural pattern gets activated when it detects a furrowed brow while other recognizes upturned lips as a smile.

“That suggests that our brains decode facial expressions by adding up sets of key muscle movements in the face of the person we are looking at,” said Aleix Martinez, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State. 

“Humans use a very large number of facial expressions to convey emotion, other non-verbal communication signals and language. Yet, when we see someone make a face, we recognize it instantly, seemingly without conscious awareness. In computational terms, a facial expression can encode information and we’ve long wondered how the brain is able to decode this information so efficiently. Now we know that there is a small part of brain devoted to this task.”

Researchers have not only managed to identify that specific region the brain but they have developed a facial expression recognition algorithm too. Based on fMRI data, the machine learning algorithm can decode human facial expressions with a 60% success rate regardless of what type of expression is made. The findings may help scientists understand how brain integrates neural patterns to recognize each expression and it also help them get more insight into neurodevelopmtenal disorders characterized by impaired growth and development of brain or central nervous system.

“This is a powerful development, because it suggests that the coding of facial expressions is very similar in your brain and my brain and most everyone else’s brain.” Martinez said.

“This work could have a variety of applications, helping us not only understand how the brain processes facial expressions but ultimately how this process may differ in people with autism.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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