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Shichuan Du, Dirk Walther, Aleix Martinez; Mostly Categorical but also Continuous Representation of Emotions in the Brain: An fMRI study. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):180. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.180.
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The old question of how emotions are represented in the brain has resulted in a fierce debate between the proponents of the continuous versus categorical models. The continuous model argues for the same set of brain regions to differentially respond to all emotion categories. In contrast, the categorical model argues for a distinct set of areas consistently and specifically active for distinct basic categories of emotion. To test these two models, we use fMRI to determine whether the brain regions associated with the perception of six basic facial expressions of emotion (happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust and fear) plus neutral best fit the continuous or the categorical model. We used a block design with eight runs of fourteen blocks each. Each block includes six sample images of the same emotion category. Each face is shown for 1.5 seconds followed by a blank screen for .5 seconds. Blocks are separated by 13 seconds with blank screen. Category order in each run is randomized. After each run, subjects are shown two images and asked to indicate which of the two images had been previously shown by button press. Five subjects successfully completed the task. We used searchlight with linear discriminant analysis to classify each pair of categories in a leave-one-block-out test, yielding 70% to 90% classification accuracy (chance 50%) in each subject with p<.05. The most discriminant areas were then mapped into a standard brain to identity common areas. Only regions consistently active in at least four subjects were kept. Most identified brain regions are consistently and specifically active for one category only (e.g., left SFG for happiness), but a few are common over several categories (e.g., left STS in sadness, anger, fear and surprise). These results suggest the brain includes a categorical and a continuous representation of facial expressions of emotion.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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