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Dynamic human and avatar facial expressions elicit differential brain responses

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Kegel Lorena C, Brugger Peter, Frühholz Sascha, Grunwald Thomas, Hilfiker Peter, Kohnen Oona, Loertscher Miriam L, Mersch Dieter, Rey Anton, Sollfrank Teresa, Steiger Bettina K, Sternagel Joerg, Weber Michel, Jokeit Hennric,
Project Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Auditory Perception - Challenging The Human Auditory System at The Limits of Hearing
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Volume (Issue) 15(3)
Page(s) 303 - 317
Title of proceedings Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
DOI 10.1093/scan/nsaa039

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


AbstractComputer-generated characters, so-called avatars, are widely used in advertising, entertainment, human–computer interaction or as research tools to investigate human emotion perception. However, brain responses to avatar and human faces have scarcely been studied to date. As such, it remains unclear whether dynamic facial expressions of avatars evoke different brain responses than dynamic facial expressions of humans. In this study, we designed anthropomorphic avatars animated with motion tracking and tested whether the human brain processes fearful and neutral expressions in human and avatar faces differently. Our fMRI results showed that fearful human expressions evoked stronger responses than fearful avatar expressions in the ventral anterior and posterior cingulate gyrus, the anterior insula, the anterior and posterior superior temporal sulcus, and the inferior frontal gyrus. Fearful expressions in human and avatar faces evoked similar responses in the amygdala. We did not find different responses to neutral human and avatar expressions. Our results highlight differences, but also similarities in the processing of fearful human expressions and fearful avatar expressions even if they are designed to be highly anthropomorphic and animated with motion tracking. This has important consequences for research using dynamic avatars, especially when processes are investigated that involve cortical and subcortical regions.