Summary: Research sheds light on how damage to the amygdala affects facial recognition and gaze perception.
Source: University of Bath.
People with damage to a crucial part of the brain fail to recognise facial emotions, but they unexpectedly find faces looking sideways more memorable researchers have found.
The findings are more evidence that damage to the amygdala affects how facial recognition and gaze perception work in unpredictable ways. Perception and understanding the facial cues of others is essential in human societies.
Patients with amygdala damage, which is common in epilepsy for example, struggle in their understanding of social signals as well as in everyday communication, which can lead to problems in their interactions with friends and family, finding life partners, and progressing with their professional careers. They often feel misunderstood which contributes to lower levels of life satisfaction.
Normally we tend to more readily remember faces showing emotions such as fear or anger than neutral expressions. When trying to predict others’ actions, we decipher their facial expressions and follow their gaze to understand the focus of their attention and eventually of their emotion. This is an important process to understand the implications of the situation for our own well-being – which is known as self-relevance – and to interpret social situations and cues.
The amygdala is particularly responsible for the processing of emotion and self-relevance. Individuals with damage to the amygdala have been observed to have emotion recognition deficits while keeping the perception of others’ eye gaze direction intact.
But now researchers from the University of Bath, working with neurosurgeons and psychologists in Warsaw, Poland, have shown that individuals with amygdala damage remembered faces looking to the side more than those looking towards them – in contrast with previous studies.
However, in line with previous research they didn’t remember emotive faces any better than neutral faces.
Sylwia Hyniewska from the University of Bath said: “Surprisingly we found that individuals with amygdala damage remembered faces looking to the side more than those looking towards them. This effect was independent of the emotional content of the face. This was unexpected given that all research so far focusing on other populations showed either an interaction effect between emotion and gaze, or an improved memory for faces looking towards the observer.
“We expected our patients to remember faces better when they were looking at them – presented with the direct gaze. However for some reason patients seem to remember faces looking away better. This means that the interaction between the processing of emotions and gaze is more complex than we thought, and not only emotions but also gaze should be studied further in this specific population to develop treatments improving these patients’ well-being.”
The research is published in the journal Epilepsy and Behaviour.
The team showed 40 patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) and 20 healthy control patients a series of faces with neutral or emotional expressions. Half were looking straight ahead, and half sideways.
As expected healthy participants had better recognition of emotional faces. The epilepsy patients did not remember emotional faces any better than neutral ones, but did find patients gazing away more memorable than those looking straight ahead.
About this neuroscience research article
Source: Chris Melvin – University of Bath Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research:Abstract for “Gaze matters! The effect of gaze direction on emotional enhancement of memory for faces in patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy” by Łukasz Okruszek, Aleksandra Bala, Marcela Dziekan, Marta Szantroch, Andrzej Rysz, Andrzej Marchel, and Sylwia Hyniewska in Epilepsy & Behavior. Published online May 30 2017 doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2017.04.016
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[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of Bath “Brain Damage Can Make Sideways Faces More Memorable and Give Us ‘Emotional Blindness’.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 6 June 2017. <https://neurosciencenews.com/brain-damage-sideways-face-6845/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of Bath (2017, June 6). Brain Damage Can Make Sideways Faces More Memorable and Give Us ‘Emotional Blindness’. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved June 6, 2017 from https://neurosciencenews.com/brain-damage-sideways-face-6845/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of Bath “Brain Damage Can Make Sideways Faces More Memorable and Give Us ‘Emotional Blindness’.” https://neurosciencenews.com/brain-damage-sideways-face-6845/ (accessed June 6, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Gaze matters! The effect of gaze direction on emotional enhancement of memory for faces in patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy Purpose The aim of the study was to examine if gaze and emotional expression, both highly self-relevant social signals, affect the recollection accuracy of perceived faces in patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE).
Methods Forty patients with MTLE (twenty-one without surgery and nineteen after anterior temporal lobectomy) as well as twenty healthy controls (HC) took part in the study. We used a set of 64 facial stimuli: 32 neutral and 32 emotional displays (16 fearful; 16 angry) from well-established affective stimuli databases. Half of the faces in each condition had eyes directed straight and half — away from the observer. Participants performed a gender identification task, and then, after a 45-minute delay were asked to identify the previously seen stimuli, presented among a new set of photos. Results Increased automatic learning of angry and fearful compared to neutral expressions was found in HC. There was no emotional enhancement of memory in MTLE but an increased learning for faces with averted than direct gaze.
Conclusion Our results expand on previous research by demonstrating that emotion expression and gaze direction can affect memory of faces. The study supports the hypothesis that healthy individuals and patients with temporal lobe abnormalities present different patterns of emotional gazes processing. The potential consequences of altered emotional gaze processing and social cognition impairments need to be further investigated to improve the quality of life of patients with MTLE.
“Gaze matters! The effect of gaze direction on emotional enhancement of memory for faces in patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy” by Łukasz Okruszek, Aleksandra Bala, Marcela Dziekan, Marta Szantroch, Andrzej Rysz, Andrzej Marchel, and Sylwia Hyniewska in Epilepsy & Behavior. Published online May 30 2017 doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2017.04.016