Neural Underpinnings of the Perception of Emotional States Derived From Biological Human Motion: A Review of Neuroimaging Research
Research on the perception of biological human motion shows that people are able to infer emotional states by observing body movements. This article reviews the methodology applied in fMRI research on the neural representation of such emotion perception. Specifically, we ask how different stimulus qualities of bodily expressions, individual ... emotional valence, and task instructions may affect the neural representation of an emotional scene. The review demonstrates the involvement of a variety of brain areas, thereby indicating how well the human brain is adjusted to navigate in multiple social situations. All stimulus categories (i.e., full-light body displays, point-light displays, and avatars) can induce an emotional percept and are associated with increased activation in an extensive neural network. This network seems to be organized around areas belonging to the so-called action observation network (PMC, IFG, and IPL) and the mentalizing network (TPJ, TP, dmPFC, and lOFC) as well as areas processing body form and motion (e.g., EBA, FBA, and pSTS). Furthermore, emotion-processing brain sites such as the amygdala and the hypothalamus seem to play an important role during the observation of emotional body expressions. Whereas most brain regions clearly display an increased response to emotional body movements in general, some structures respond selectively to negative valence. Moreover, neural activation seems to depend on task characteristics, indicating that certain structures are activated even when attention is shifted away from emotional body movements.