Emotions (Fear Faces)

The Authors: The article entitled “Cultural Specificity in Amygdala Response to Fear Faces” was researched by Joan Y. Chiao, Tetsuya Iidaka, Heather L. Gordon, Junpei Nogawa, Moshe Bar, Elissa Aminoff, Norihiro Sadato, and Nalini Ambady. All of these researchers sought to study the amygdala and whether cultural specificity had an affect on the neural response to fear faces.

Intro: The human amygdala is greatly activated to fear faces. It is thought that this heightened response is a reflection of an adaptive social signal to either warn or solicit help from others. Prior neuroimaging studies have only examined amygdala response to different emotional stimuli in participants within the same culture and not cross culturally, it remains unknown whether culture affects the neural response to fear faces. The researchers’ decided to test their hypotheses on two distinct cultures, native Japanese in Japan and Caucasians in the United States.

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Hypotheses: The authors had came up with two hypotheses for this research.
H1: Given automatic, prepotent nature of amygdala response to fear faces and the adaptive importance of responding to any signal of imminent danger in the environment, cultural affiliation will not affect the amygdala response to fear faces.
H2: Amygdala response may be enhanced for own- culture fear faces, given the greater similarity between self and other members of the same cultural group.

The purpose of the present work was to investigate these two competing hypotheses regarding culture and neural activation in response to fear faces. The researchers used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging in two distinct cultures to investigate cultural specificity in the amygdala’s response. In total the experiment had 20 healthy participants both men and women between the ages of 18-25 years, with corrected- to-normal vision, that were right- handed. The experiment used digitized grayscale pictures of 80 faces each with either a fearful, a neutral, a happy, or an angry expression taken from Japanese and Caucasian posers (20 men and 20 women from each cultural group). All participants were tested within their own culture by an experimenter who conducted the study in their native language, for each trial participants made an emotion categorization judgment using one of four buttons, the order of the stimuli was randomized within and between functional runs.

The fMRI results were evaluated in two different ways, through actual activation of the amygdala and response time/accuracy of emotions. Consistent with the researcher’s hypotheses, whole brain analyses revealed greater activation within regions of left and right amygdala for own culture compared to other-culture fear faces. Greater response to own-culture fear faces was also found in medial-temporal regions critical to successful encoding and retrieval of faces. The study showed that Caucasian participants were significantly more accurate at recognizing fear in their own-culture relative to other culture faces, while Japanese participants were faster in recognizing fear relative to Caucasian participants. To examine whether a culture of participant and a culture of face was present at higher thresholds, anatomical ROI analyses were also conducted. The anatomical ROI analyses also confirmed that amygdala response for recognizing fear was significantly greater for member’s of one’s own culture compared to other cultural groups. No other significant response for other emotional expressions were found in the ROI analyses.

In sum, the study demonstrates that cultural specificity ( or membership) modulates the brain’s primary response to fear. This is significant because the previously demonstration of the automatic, prepotent nature of the amygdala responses to fear faces underscores the significance of further cross-cultural testing at the neural level.

7 thoughts on “Emotions (Fear Faces)”

  1. Thanks for the review. As reported in the article and mentioned in your post “The study showed that Caucasian participants were significantly more accurate at recognizing fear in their own-culture relative to other culture faces, while Japanese participants were faster in recognizing fear relative to Caucasian participants,” I found this very interesting and wanted the article authors to discuss it. It seems they didn’t address this at all. What do you think?

  2. Great review! Overall I thought the article was very easy to understand, except the parts where it got into the statistics and results of the fMRI, which is to be expected. I had known beforehand that it is easier to recognize the differences between people’s faces when they are a member of your race (that is, it is easier to distinguish the faces of people who are a part of your ethnicity). Therefore, it makes sense to me that it is easier to recognize fear in someone from your own culture.

  3. It would be great to see if the reaction to other emotions matched the data found about fear. Would participants have this same response to sadness or happiness? Good job on the review 🙂

  4. I think it would be interesting to see further investigation on whether this ability to recognize in-group expressions of fear faster or better (depending on the group) led to different outcomes in pro social behavior.

  5. When the results showed that people were better at recognizing fear in their own race, I immediately thought of the Cross Race effect. This is an effect seen in eye witness accounts and police lineups. Basically, it states the people are better at remembering and recognizing the faces of people of the same race. I wonder how this ties into recognizing emotions.

  6. Recently, my gender psychology class has revolved about the similarities and differences that exist between males and females. While the two genders are more alike than different, one facet that shows a significant difference deals with emotions. Not only are females more expressive of their emotions, they are also better able to accurately detect emotions in other people’s faces. Some hypothesize whether this is because women are more focused on relationships, and being able to read and express emotions is necessary to foster relationships. Others hypothesize that this is because women are of a lower status than men and therefore have to be more attuned to the emotional environment. No matter the reason, the difference exists. It seems that the authors tried to control for this by having an equal number of males and females and using an equal number of male and female faces to convey the emotions. I am interested to see if there was any gender difference between the two cultures.

  7. Something that we talked about in class was that because of the results of this study more research is needed on the topic of American media exposure and facial recognition in groups like the Japanese, who may have been exposed to American media and it could have effected their results. Specifically, the ability to recognize certain facial expressions. Of course, it’s not just Japanese people who have been exposed to a ridiculous amount of American television shows, movies, and commercials. People from plenty of other countries have as well. I remember going to Mexico when I was sixteen and watching twilight in a movie theater with my host family thinking how strange it was to see the characters but hear different Spanish voices. When is the last time you remember seeing a prominent Japanese person pitch a product to you in a commercial? Or watching a Mexican movie dubbed over or subtitled in Spanish? The point is that it is a regular part of the lived experience for people in many other countries and cultures. If you go to Japan and ask them to name maybe five American actors or celebrities chances are they will. If you tried to do the same could you? If you have been exposed to non-American media what kind was it and why? Do you think this would have a measurable effect on you?

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