Fear boosts the early neural coding of faces

Maria Teresa Turano, Junpeng Lao, Anne-Raphaëlle Richoz, Peter de Lissa, Sarah B. A. Degosciu, Maria Pia Viggiano, Roberto Caldara*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


The rapid extraction of facial identity and emotional expressions is critical for adapted social interactions. These biologically relevant abilities have been associated with early neural responses on the face sensitive N170 component. However, whether all facial expressions uniformly modulate the N170, and whether this effect occurs only when emotion categorization is task-relevant, is still unclear. To clarify this issue, we recorded high-resolution electrophysiological signals while 22 observers perceived the six basic expressions plus neutral. We used a repetition suppression paradigm, with an adaptor followed by a target face displaying the same identity and expression (trials of interest). We also included catch trials to which participants had to react, by varying identity (identity-task), expression (expression-task) or both (dual-task) on the target face. We extracted single-trial Repetition Suppression (stRS) responses using a data-driven spatiotemporal approach with a robust hierarchical linear model to isolate adaptation effects on the trials of interest. Regardless of the task, fear was the only expression modulating the N170, eliciting the strongest stRS responses. This observation was corroborated by distinct behavioral performance during the catch trials for this facial expression. Altogether, our data reinforce the view that fear elicits distinct neural processes in the brain, enhancing attention and facilitating the early coding of faces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1959-1971
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Corrigendum can be found in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 12, Issue 12, December 2017, Page 1993, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsx136


  • adaptation
  • facial expressions
  • N170
  • single-trial repetition suppression


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