Brain synchronization during perception of facial emotional expressions with natural and unnatural dynamics

Dionysios Perdikis, Jakob Volhard, Viktor Müller, Kathrin Kaulard, Timothy R. Brick, Christian Wallraven, Ulman Lindenberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Research on the perception of facial emotional expressions (FEEs) often uses static images that do not capture the dynamic character of social coordination in natural settings. Recent behavioral and neuroimaging studies suggest that dynamic FEEs (videos or morphs) enhance emotion perception. To identify mechanisms associated with the perception of FEEs with natural dynamics, the present EEG (Electroencephalography)study compared (i) ecologically valid stimuli of angry and happy FEEs with natural dynamics to (ii) FEEs with unnatural dynamics, and to (iii) static FEEs. FEEs with unnatural dynamics showed faces moving in a biologically possible but unpredictable and atypical manner, generally resulting in ambivalent emotional content. Participants were asked to explicitly recognize FEEs. Using whole power (WP) and phase synchrony (Phase Locking Index, PLI), we found that brain responses discriminated between natural and unnatural FEEs (both static and dynamic). Differences were primarily observed in the timing and brain topographies of delta and theta PLI and WP, and in alpha and beta WP. Our results support the view that biologically plausible, albeit atypical, FEEs are processed by the brain by different mechanisms than natural FEEs. We conclude that natural movement dynamics are essential for the perception of FEEs and the associated brain processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0181225
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jul

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Max Planck Society and the Max-Planck Network (Maxnet) for Cognition. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Perdikis et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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