The contribution of facial dynamics to subtle expression recognition in typical viewers and developmental visual agnosia

Publication date: August 2018
Source:Neuropsychologia, Volume 117
Author(s): Neta Yitzhak, Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, Hillel Aviezer
Facial expressions are inherently dynamic cues that develop and change over time, unfolding their affective signal. Although facial dynamics are assumed important for emotion recognition, testing often involves intense and stereotypical expressions and little is known about the role of temporal information in the recognition of subtle, non-stereotypical expressions. In Experiment 1 we demonstrate that facial dynamics are critical for recognizing subtle and non-stereotypical facial expressions, but not for recognizing intense and stereotypical displays of emotion. In Experiment 2 we further examined whether the facilitative effect of motion can lead to improved emotion recognition in LG, an individual with developmental visual agnosia and prosopagnosia, who has poor emotion recognition when tested with static facial expressions. LG’s emotion recognition improved when subtle, non-stereotypical faces were dynamic rather than static. However, compared to controls, his relative gain from temporal information was diminished. Furthermore, LG’s eye-tracking data demonstrated atypical visual scanning of the dynamic faces, consisting of longer fixations and lower fixation rates for the dynamic-subtle facial expressions, comparing to the dynamic-intense facial expressions. We suggest that deciphering subtle dynamic expressions strongly relies on integrating broad facial regions across time, rather than focusing on local emotional cues, skills which are impaired in developmental visual agnosia.