Human amygdala response to dynamic facial expressions of positive and negative surprise
Although brain imaging evidence accumulates to suggest that the amygdala plays a key role in the processing of novel stimuli, only little is known about its role in processing expressed novelty conveyed by surprised faces, and even less about possible interactive encoding of novelty and valence. Those investigations that have already probed human amygdala involvement in the processing of surprised facial expressions either used static pictures displaying negative surprise (as contained in fear)
... or "neutral" surprise, and manipulated valence by contextually priming or subjectively associating static surprise with either negative or positive information. Therefore, it still remains unresolved how the human amygdala differentially processes dynamic surprised facial expressions displaying either positive or negative surprise. Here, we created new artificial dynamic 3-dimensional facial expressions conveying surprise with an intrinsic positive (wonderment) or negative (fear) connotation, but also intrinsic positive (joy) or negative (anxiety) emotions not containing any surprise, in addition to neutral facial displays either containing ("typical surprise" expression) or not containing ("neutral") surprise. Results showed heightened amygdala activity to faces containing positive (vs. negative) surprise, which may either correspond to a specific wonderment effect as such, or to the computation of a negative expected value prediction error. Findings are discussed in the light of data obtained from a closely matched nonsocial lottery task, which revealed overlapping activity within the left amygdala to unexpected positive outcomes.