Facial expressions, their communicatory functions and neuro–cognitive substrates

R. J. R. Blair

Abstract

Human emotional expressions serve a crucial communicatory role allowing the rapid transmission of valence information from one individual to another. This paper will review the literature on the neural mechanisms necessary for this communication: both the mechanisms involved in the production of emotional expressions and those involved in the interpretation of the emotional expressions of others. Finally, reference to the neuro–psychiatric disorders of autism, psychopathy and acquired sociopathy will be made. In these conditions, the appropriate processing of emotional expressions is impaired. In autism, it is argued that the basic response to emotional expressions remains intact but that there is impaired ability to represent the referent of the individual displaying the emotion. In psychopathy, the response to fearful and sad expressions is attenuated and this interferes with socialization resulting in an individual who fails to learn to avoid actions that result in harm to others. In acquired sociopathy, the response to angry expressions in particular is attenuated resulting in reduced regulation of social behaviour.