Angry faces take priority in our brain

Oct 29, 2008
Angry faces take priority in our brain
Face image copyright: Paul Ekman, Ph.D

(PhysOrg.com) -- In any social situation, we need to be aware of threats to our own safety from other people. That may be why our brains are better attuned to remembering the identity of angry faces over short periods of time.

As well as discovering improved short term memory for angry faces, researchers at Bangor University's School of Psychology have located a key brain area that responds more actively to angry than happy or neutral faces. This discovery is being published in a scientific paper today by PLoS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203), an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication, publishing reports on primary research from any scientific discipline.

"The fact that we have located the process taking place deep in the brain- in an area associated with primitive emotional response systems- suggests that the ability to retain angry faces in our short term memory is associated with our survival instincts," explains Dr Margaret Jackson, the paper's lead author.

She describes this finding as part of a 'threat superiority effect'. It implies that the signal from the newly identified area of activity boosts the brain processing for face identification- as a priority activity relevant to our safety.

"The ability to remember who is angry may have been of evolutionary importance in enabling us to respond to a threat situation. Remembering who's happy is less important as it bears no relation to our own immediate safety," explains Jackson.

Our ability to function in social situations relies crucially on our short term memory- for fluid and coherent conversation, and to remember what's happening and what we're doing in our immediate surroundings. The frontal lobe is generally the area involved in these short term memory processes.

"This research highlights a part of the brain in which abnormal activity has been implicated in several neuropsychiatric conditions including schizophrenia, and mood disturbances that can be observed in Parkinson's disease", commented Professor David Linden, a psychiatrist who collaborated on the project. "Patients suffering from these diseases are often impaired in their ability to use social cues in everyday communication".

This work falls into the rapidly expanding new field of social cognitive neuroscience, one of the specialisms of the Wolfson Centre for Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, part of Bangor University's renowned School of Psychology.

Citation: Neural Correlates of Enhanced Visual Short-Term Memory for Angry Faces: An fMRI Study, www.plosone.org/article/info:d… 08AA8C76632709EAB7D9

Provided by Bangor University

Explore further: Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Anger at suicide of US Internet activist

Jan 14, 2013

Angry activists poured scorn on prosecutors Sunday for leading an overzealous campaign against Internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz, with his family suggesting it contributed to his suicide.

Google creates a spectacle with project

Apr 06, 2012

(AP) -- If you think texting while walking is dangerous, just wait until everyone starts wearing Google's futuristic, Internet-connected glasses.

BP warns of long effort to cap spill

Jun 01, 2010

BP officials warned they may not be able to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak until August, as Louisiana residents warned the spill could wipe out dozens of fish species.

Recommended for you

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.