The Modular Neuroarchitecture of Social Judgments on Faces

Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, RWTH Aachen University, 52074 Aachen, Germany.
Cerebral Cortex (Impact Factor: 8.67). 07/2011; 22(4):951-61. DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhr166
Source: PubMed


Face-derived information on trustworthiness and attractiveness crucially influences social interaction. It is, however, unclear to what degree the functional neuroanatomy of these complex social judgments on faces reflects genuine social versus basic emotional and cognitive processing. To disentangle social from nonsocial contributions, we assessed commonalities and differences between the functional networks activated by judging social (trustworthiness, attractiveness), emotional (happiness), and cognitive (age) facial traits. Relative to happiness and age evaluations, both trustworthiness and attractiveness judgments selectively activated the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus, forming a core social cognition network. Moreover, they also elicited a higher amygdalar response than even the emotional control condition. Both social judgments differed, however, in their top-down modulation of face-sensitive regions: trustworthiness judgments recruited the posterior superior temporal sulcus, whereas attractiveness judgments recruited the fusiform gyrus. Social and emotional judgments converged and, therefore, likely interact in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Social and age judgments, on the other hand, commonly engaged the anterior insula, inferior parietal cortex, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which appear to subserve more cognitive aspects in social evaluation. These findings demonstrate the modularity of social judgments on human faces by separating the neural correlates of social, face-specific, emotional, and cognitive processing facets.

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    • "Indeed, there is behavioral (Jones et al., 2006; Main et al., 2010; Quist et al., 2012) and neurobiological (Kampe et al., 2001; O'Doherty et al., 2003) evidence that facial attractiveness is not simply a consequence of esthetically pleasing characteristics, but rather an integration of multiple cues including physical appearance , inter-personal engagement, and emotional expression. It is notable that the neural correlates of the processing of facial attractiveness share a very high degree of overlap with those seen for the processing of facial trustworthiness (Bzdok et al., 2012; Mende-Siedlecki et al., 2013), suggesting that the same facial cues may influence multiple aspects of face processing and social judgments . Oosterhof and Todorov (2008) argue that faces are assessed on two orthogonal dimensions, namely valence and dominance. "
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