Investigation of neural correlates of faces and emotional expressions using magnetoencephalography
The recognition of faces and of facial expressions in an important evolutionary skill, and an integral part of social communication. It has been argued that the processing of faces is distinct from the processing of non-face stimuli and functional neuroimaging investigations have even found evidence of a distinction between the perception of faces and of emotional expressions. Participants were asked to perform face categorisation and emotional discrimination tasks and Magnetoencephalography (MEG) was used to measure the neurophysiology of face and facial emotion processing. SAM analysis techniques enable the investigation of spectral changes within specific time-windows and frequency bands, thus allowing the identification of stimulus specific regions of cortical power changes. Furthermore, MEG’s excellent temporal resolution allows for the detection of subtle changes associated with the processing of face and non-face stimuli and different emotional expressions. The data presented reveal that face perception is associated with spectral power changes within a distributed cortical network comprising occipito-temporal as well as parietal and frontal areas. For the perception of facial affect, spectral power changes were also observed within frontal and limbic areas including the parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala. Analyses of temporal correlates also reveal a distinction between the processing of faces and facial affect. Face perception per se occurred at earlier latencies whereas the discrimination of facial expression occurred within a longer time-window. In addition, the processing of faces and facial affect was differentially associated with changes in cortical oscillatory power for alpha, beta and gamma frequencies. The perception of faces and facial affect is associated with distinct changes in cortical oscillatory activity that can be mapped to specific neural structures, specific time-windows and latencies as well as specific frequency bands. Therefore, the work presented in this thesis provides further insight into the sequential processing of faces and facial affect.