Neural responses to facial and vocal expressions of fear and disgust

M. L. Phillips, A. W. Young, S. K. Scott, A. J. Calder, C. Andrew, V. Giampietro, S. C. R. Williams, E. T. Bullmore, M. Brammer, J. A. Gray

Abstract

Neuropsychological studies report more impaired responses to facial expressions of fear than disgust in people with amygdala lesions, and vice versa in people with Huntington's disease. Experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have confirmed the role of the amygdala in the response to fearful faces and have implicated the anterior insula in the response to facial expressions of disgust. We used fMRI to extend these studies to the perception of fear and disgust from both facial and vocal expressions. Consistent with neuropsychological findings, both types of fearful stimuli activated the amygdala. Facial expressions of disgust activated the anterior insula and the caudate–putamen; vocal expressions of disgust did not significantly activate either of these regions. All four types of stimuli activated the superior temporal gyrus. Our findings therefore (i) support the differential localization of the neural substrates of fear and disgust; (ii) confirm the involvement of the amygdala in the emotion of fear, whether evoked by facial or vocal expressions; (iii) confirm the involvement of the anterior insula and the striatum in reactions to facial expressions of disgust; and (iv) suggest a possible general role for the perception of emotional expressions for the superior temporal gyrus.