Abstract

People track facial expression dynamics with ease to accurately perceive distinct emotions. Although the superior temporal sulcus (STS) appears to possess mechanisms for perceiving changeable facial attributes such as expressions, the nature of the underlying neural computations is not known. Motivated by novel theoretical accounts, we hypothesized that visual and motor areas represent expressions as anticipated motion trajectories. Using magnetoencephalography, we show predictable transitions between fearful and neutral expressions (compared with scrambled and static presentations) heighten activity in visual cortex as quickly as 165 ms poststimulus onset and later (237 ms) engage fusiform gyrus, STS and premotor areas. Consistent with proposed models of biological motion representation, we suggest that visual areas predictively represent coherent facial trajectories. We show that such representations bias emotion perception of subsequent static faces, suggesting that facial movements elicit predictions that bias perception. Our findings reveal critical processes evoked in the perception of dynamic stimuli such as facial expressions, which can endow perception with temporal continuity.

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