Spontaneous retrieval of affective person knowledge in face perception

Alexander Todorov, M. Ida Gobbini, Karla K. Evans, James V. Haxby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, we explored whether affective person knowledge based on memories formed from minimal information is spontaneously retrieved in face perception. In the first stage of the experiment, participants were presented with 120 unfamiliar faces. Each face was presented with a description of one of four types of behaviors: aggressive, disgusting, neutral, and nice. In the second stage, participants were scanned while engaged in a one-back recognition task in which they saw the faces that were associated with behaviors and 30 novel faces. Although this task is a simple perceptual task that neither demands person evaluation nor retrieval of person knowledge, neural responses to faces differed as a function of the behaviors. Faces associated with behaviors evoked stronger activity than did novel faces in regions implicated in social cognition--anterior paracingulate cortex and superior temporal sulcus. Explicit memory for the behaviors enhanced the neural response in these regions. Faces associated with disgusting behaviors evoked stronger activity in left anterior insula than did faces associated with aggressive behaviors. This effect was equally strong for faces associated with explicitly recalled behaviors and faces associated with non-recalled behaviors. The findings suggest that affective person knowledge acquired from minimal information is spontaneously retrieved in face perception, engaging neural systems for analysis of social cognition and emotions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-173
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jul 2006
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition (Psychology)
  • Social Perception

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