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Sex differences in neural activation to facial expressions denoting contempt and disgust.

Aleman A, Swart M - PLoS ONE (2008)

Bottom Line: Contemptuous faces did not elicit stronger amygdala activation than did disgusted expressions.In addition, the effect of stimulus sex differed for men versus women.Thus, our results suggest a neural basis for sex differences in moral sensitivity regarding hierarchy on the one hand and physical purity on the other.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: BCN Neuroimaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. a.aleman@med.umcg.nl

ABSTRACT
The facial expression of contempt has been regarded to communicate feelings of moral superiority. Contempt is an emotion that is closely related to disgust, but in contrast to disgust, contempt is inherently interpersonal and hierarchical. The aim of this study was twofold. First, to investigate the hypothesis of preferential amygdala responses to contempt expressions versus disgust. Second, to investigate whether, at a neural level, men would respond stronger to biological signals of interpersonal superiority (e.g., contempt) than women. We performed an experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in which participants watched facial expressions of contempt and disgust in addition to neutral expressions. The faces were presented as distractors in an oddball task in which participants had to react to one target face. Facial expressions of contempt and disgust activated a network of brain regions, including prefrontal areas (superior, middle and medial prefrontal gyrus), anterior cingulate, insula, amygdala, parietal cortex, fusiform gyrus, occipital cortex, putamen and thalamus. Contemptuous faces did not elicit stronger amygdala activation than did disgusted expressions. To limit the number of statistical comparisons, we confined our analyses of sex differences to the frontal and temporal lobes. Men displayed stronger brain activation than women to facial expressions of contempt in the medial frontal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus. Conversely, women showed stronger neural responses than men to facial expressions of disgust. In addition, the effect of stimulus sex differed for men versus women. Specifically, women showed stronger responses to male contemptuous faces (as compared to female expressions), in the insula and middle frontal gyrus. Contempt has been conceptualized as signaling perceived moral violations of social hierarchy, whereas disgust would signal violations of physical purity. Thus, our results suggest a neural basis for sex differences in moral sensitivity regarding hierarchy on the one hand and physical purity on the other.

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Brain regions activated stronger in men than in women (blue color) or stronger in women than in men (orange color) in response to emotional expressions of contempt (above) or disgust (below).
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pone-0003622-g002: Brain regions activated stronger in men than in women (blue color) or stronger in women than in men (orange color) in response to emotional expressions of contempt (above) or disgust (below).

Mentions: When men and women were contrasted in a group comparison, a striking difference emerged in activation to contemptuous faces, which was much stronger in men than in women. Contemptuous facial expressions elicited stronger activation in men than in women across a range of brain regions, including the medial frontal gyrus and caudate, left superior temporal gyrus, left inferior frontal gyrus, left superior and inferior parietal lobule, right superior and middle occipital gyrus, and right precuneus. Conversely, for disgusted faces, activation was much stronger in women than in men. This was the case for a large number of clusters, with the most prominent differences in the medial and superior frontal gyrus, right precentral gyrus, left cuneus, right subgyral cortex, right superior temporal gyrus, and bilateral parahippocampal gyrus, insula and thalamus. Table 1 provides coordinates, peak t-values and cluster sizes for differentially activated regions in men compared to women for facial expressions of contempt and disgust, respectively (relative to standards). Figure 2 illustrates several regions that activated differentially for men and women during contempt and disgust perception, respectively.


Sex differences in neural activation to facial expressions denoting contempt and disgust.

Aleman A, Swart M - PLoS ONE (2008)

Brain regions activated stronger in men than in women (blue color) or stronger in women than in men (orange color) in response to emotional expressions of contempt (above) or disgust (below).
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC2572192&req=5

pone-0003622-g002: Brain regions activated stronger in men than in women (blue color) or stronger in women than in men (orange color) in response to emotional expressions of contempt (above) or disgust (below).
Mentions: When men and women were contrasted in a group comparison, a striking difference emerged in activation to contemptuous faces, which was much stronger in men than in women. Contemptuous facial expressions elicited stronger activation in men than in women across a range of brain regions, including the medial frontal gyrus and caudate, left superior temporal gyrus, left inferior frontal gyrus, left superior and inferior parietal lobule, right superior and middle occipital gyrus, and right precuneus. Conversely, for disgusted faces, activation was much stronger in women than in men. This was the case for a large number of clusters, with the most prominent differences in the medial and superior frontal gyrus, right precentral gyrus, left cuneus, right subgyral cortex, right superior temporal gyrus, and bilateral parahippocampal gyrus, insula and thalamus. Table 1 provides coordinates, peak t-values and cluster sizes for differentially activated regions in men compared to women for facial expressions of contempt and disgust, respectively (relative to standards). Figure 2 illustrates several regions that activated differentially for men and women during contempt and disgust perception, respectively.

Bottom Line: Contemptuous faces did not elicit stronger amygdala activation than did disgusted expressions.In addition, the effect of stimulus sex differed for men versus women.Thus, our results suggest a neural basis for sex differences in moral sensitivity regarding hierarchy on the one hand and physical purity on the other.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: BCN Neuroimaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. a.aleman@med.umcg.nl

ABSTRACT
The facial expression of contempt has been regarded to communicate feelings of moral superiority. Contempt is an emotion that is closely related to disgust, but in contrast to disgust, contempt is inherently interpersonal and hierarchical. The aim of this study was twofold. First, to investigate the hypothesis of preferential amygdala responses to contempt expressions versus disgust. Second, to investigate whether, at a neural level, men would respond stronger to biological signals of interpersonal superiority (e.g., contempt) than women. We performed an experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in which participants watched facial expressions of contempt and disgust in addition to neutral expressions. The faces were presented as distractors in an oddball task in which participants had to react to one target face. Facial expressions of contempt and disgust activated a network of brain regions, including prefrontal areas (superior, middle and medial prefrontal gyrus), anterior cingulate, insula, amygdala, parietal cortex, fusiform gyrus, occipital cortex, putamen and thalamus. Contemptuous faces did not elicit stronger amygdala activation than did disgusted expressions. To limit the number of statistical comparisons, we confined our analyses of sex differences to the frontal and temporal lobes. Men displayed stronger brain activation than women to facial expressions of contempt in the medial frontal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus. Conversely, women showed stronger neural responses than men to facial expressions of disgust. In addition, the effect of stimulus sex differed for men versus women. Specifically, women showed stronger responses to male contemptuous faces (as compared to female expressions), in the insula and middle frontal gyrus. Contempt has been conceptualized as signaling perceived moral violations of social hierarchy, whereas disgust would signal violations of physical purity. Thus, our results suggest a neural basis for sex differences in moral sensitivity regarding hierarchy on the one hand and physical purity on the other.

Show MeSH