Face-selective processing and the effect of pleasant and unpleasant emotional expressions on ERP correlates

Michela Balconi, Uberto Pozzoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies have revealed that decoding of facial-expressions starts very early in the brain (≃180 ms post-stimulus) and might be processed separately from the basic stage of face perception. In order to explore brain potentials (ERPs) related to decoding of facial-expressions and the effect of emotional valence of the stimulus, we analyzed 18 normal subjects. Faces with five basic emotional expressions (fear, anger, surprise, happiness, sadness) and neutral stimulus were presented in random order. The results demonstrated that an emotional face elicited a negative peak at approximately 230 ms (N230), distributed mainly over the posterior site for each emotion. The electrophysiological activity observed may represent specific cognitive processing underlying the decoding of emotional facial-expressions. Nevertheless, differences in peak amplitude were observed for high-arousal negative expressions compared with positive (happiness) and low-arousal expressions (sadness). N230 amplitude increased in response to anger, fear and surprise, suggesting that subjects' ERP variations are affected by experienced emotional intensity, related to arousal and unpleasant value of the stimulus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-74
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2003


  • Arousal
  • Event-related potentials
  • Face processing
  • Facial affect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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