The social evaluation of faces: a meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies

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Neuroscience research on the social evaluation of faces has accumulated over the last decade, yielding divergent results. We used a meta-analytic technique, multi-level kernel density analysis (MKDA), to analyze 29 neuroimaging studies on face evaluation. Across negative face evaluations, we observed the most consistent activations in bilateral amygdala. Across positive face evaluations, we observed the most consistent activations in medial prefrontal cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC), left caudate and nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Based on additional analyses comparing linear and non-linear responses, we propose a ventral/dorsal dissociation within the amygdala, wherein separate populations of neurons code for face valence and intensity, respectively. Finally, we argue that some of the differences between studies are attributable to differences in the typicality of face stimuli. Specifically, extremely attractive faces are more likely to elicit responses in NAcc/caudate and mOFC.

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