Individual differences in neural activity during a facial expression vs. identity working memory task

Maital Neta, Paul J. Whalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Facial expressions of emotion constitute a critical portion of our non-verbal social interactions. In addition, the identity of the individual displaying this expression is critical to these interactions as they embody the context in which these expressions will be interpreted. To identify any overlapping and/or unique brain circuitry involved in the processing of these two information streams in a laboratory setting, participants performed a working memory (WM) task (i.e., n-back) in which they were instructed to monitor either the expression (EMO) or the identity (ID) of the same set of face stimuli. Consistent with previous work, during both the EMO and ID tasks, we found a significant increase in activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) supporting its generalized role in WM. Further, individuals that showed greater DLPFC activity during both tasks also showed increased amygdala activity during the EMO task and increased lateral fusiform gyrus activity during the ID task. Importantly, the level of activity in these regions significantly correlated with performance on the respective tasks. These findings provide support for two separate neural circuitries, both involving the DLPFC, supporting working memory for the faces and expressions of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1685-1692
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Emotion
  • FMRI
  • Facial expressions
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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