Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience vol:9 issue:10 pages:1481-8
Facial expression perception can be influenced by the natural visual context in which the face is perceived. We performed an fMRI experiment presenting participants with fearful or neutral faces against threatening or neutral background scenes. Triangles and scrambled scenes served as control stimuli. The results showed that the valence of the background influences face selective activity in the right anterior parahippocampal place area (PPA) and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) with higher activation for neutral backgrounds compared to threatening backgrounds (controlled for isolated background effects) and that this effect correlated with trait empathy in the sgACC. In addition, the left fusiform gyrus (FG) responds to the affective congruence between face and background scene. The results show that valence of the background modulates face processing and support the hypothesis that empathic processing in sgACC is inhibited when affective information is present in the background. In addition, the findings reveal a pattern of complex scene perception showing a gradient of functional specialization along the posterior-anterior axis: from sensitivity to the affective content of scenes (extrastriate body area: EBA and posterior PPA), over scene emotion-face emotion interaction (left FG) via category-scene interaction (anterior PPA) to scene-category-personality interaction (sgACC).