Men Fear Other Men Most: Gender Specific Brain Activations in Perceiving Threat from Dynamic Faces and Bodies – An fMRI Study

Cognitive and Affective Neurosciences Laboratory, Tilburg University Tilburg, Netherlands.
Frontiers in Psychology (Impact Factor: 2.8). 01/2011; 2:3. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00003
Source: PubMed


Gender differences are an important factor regulating our daily interactions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we show that brain areas involved in processing social signals are activated differently by threatening signals send from male and female facial and bodily expressions and that their activation patterns are different for male and female observers. Male participants pay more attention to the female face as shown by increased amygdala activity. But a host of other areas show selective sensitivity for male observers attending to male threatening bodily expressions (extrastriate body area, superior temporal sulcus, fusiform gyrus, pre-supplementary motor area, and premotor cortex). This is the first study investigating gender differences in processing dynamic female and male facial and bodily expressions and it illustrates the importance of gender differences in affective communication.

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Available from: Mariska E Kret
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    • "However, results from our previous EEG study showing rapid integration effects of face and body (Meeren et al., 2005) and of face and context (Righart and de Gelder, 2008a) speak against this explanation. It has been suggested previously that observers automatically attend to the body to grasp the action of the observed and prepare their own response (Kret et al., 2011a,b). The angry body gesture has most direct fight/flight consequences for the observer which is possibly why it attracted most fixations. "
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    ABSTRACT: We receive emotional signals from different sources, including the face, the whole body, and the natural scene. Previous research has shown the importance of context provided by the whole body and the scene on the recognition of facial expressions. This study measured physiological responses to face-body-scene combinations. Participants freely viewed emotionally congruent and incongruent face-body and body-scene pairs whilst eye fixations, pupil-size, and electromyography (EMG) responses were recorded. Participants attended more to angry and fearful vs. happy or neutral cues, independent of the source and relatively independent from whether the face body and body scene combinations were emotionally congruent or not. Moreover, angry faces combined with angry bodies and angry bodies viewed in aggressive social scenes elicited greatest pupil dilation. Participants' face expressions matched the valence of the stimuli but when face-body compounds were shown, the observed facial expression influenced EMG responses more than the posture. Together, our results show that the perception of emotional signals from faces, bodies and scenes depends on the natural context, but when threatening cues are presented, these threats attract attention, induce arousal, and evoke congruent facial reactions.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2013 · Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
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    • "The existing findings on sex differences in the social brain are either limited to investigation of static and dynamic faces (for recent review, see [40]) or extremely sparse. In males, greater fMRI brain activation over the extrastriate body area, superior temporal sulcus, fusiform gyrus, pre-supplementary motor area, and premotor cortex (with a lack of behavioral differences) is reported for a full-body male threatening versus neutral displays [41]. Brain activation during visual processing of point-light biological motion overlaps topographically, especially, in the right temporal cortex, with the network engaged in visual perception of agency and social attribution in Heider-and-Simmel-like movies representing motion of geometric shapes [42], [43]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Body language reading is of significance for daily life social cognition and successful social interaction, and constitutes a core component of social competence. Yet it is unclear whether our ability for body language reading is gender specific. In the present work, female and male observers had to visually recognize emotions through point-light human locomotion performed by female and male actors with different emotional expressions. For subtle emotional expressions only, males surpass females in recognition accuracy and readiness to respond to happy walking portrayed by female actors, whereas females exhibit a tendency to be better in recognition of hostile angry locomotion expressed by male actors. In contrast to widespread beliefs about female superiority in social cognition, the findings suggest that gender effects in recognition of emotions from human locomotion are modulated by emotional content of actions and opposite actor gender. In a nutshell, the study makes a further step in elucidation of gender impact on body language reading and on neurodevelopmental and psychiatric deficits in visual social cognition.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2013 · PLoS ONE
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    • "For the current study, we selected the best models, with recognition scores above 80% correct. We used only male bodies because we previously found that these evoke stronger arousal when anger and fear are expressed (Kret et al., 2011b; Kret and de Gelder 2012b). Pictures were presented in grayscale, against a gray background. "
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    ABSTRACT: Traditional emotion theories stress the importance of the face in the expression of emotions but bodily expressions are becoming increasingly important as well. In these experiments we tested the hypothesis that similar physiological responses can be evoked by observing emotional face and body signals and that the reaction to angry signals is amplified in anxious individuals. We designed three experiments in which participants categorized emotional expressions from isolated facial and bodily expressions and emotionally congruent and incongruent face-body compounds. Participants' fixations were measured and their pupil size recorded with eye-tracking equipment and their facial reactions measured with electromyography. The results support our prediction that the recognition of a facial expression is improved in the context of a matching posture and importantly, vice versa as well. From their facial expressions, it appeared that observers acted with signs of negative emotionality (increased corrugator activity) to angry and fearful facial expressions and with positive emotionality (increased zygomaticus) to happy facial expressions. What we predicted and found, was that angry and fearful cues from the face or the body, attracted more attention than happy cues. We further observed that responses evoked by angry cues were amplified in individuals with high anxiety scores. In sum, we show that people process bodily expressions of emotion in a similar fashion as facial expressions and that the congruency between the emotional signals from the face and body facilitates the recognition of the emotion.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2013 · Frontiers in Psychology
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