Static pictures of emotional facial expressions have been found to activate brain structures involved in the processing of emotional stimuli. However, in everyday live, emotional expressions are changing rapidly, and the processing of the onset vs the offset of the very same emotional expression might rely on different brain networks, presumably leading to different behavioral and physiological reactions (e.g. approach or avoidance). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, this was examined by presenting video clips depicting onsets and offsets of happy and angry facial expressions. Subjective valence and threat ratings clearly depended on the direction of change. Blood oxygen level dependent responses indicate both reward- and threat-related activations for the offset of angry expressions. Comparing onsets and offsets, angry offsets were associated with stronger ventral striatum activation than angry onsets. Additionally, the offset of happy and the onset of angry expressions showed strong common activity in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex bilaterally, the left amygdala and the left insula, whereas the onset of happy and the offset of angry expressions induced significant activation in the left dorsal striatum. In sum, the results confirm different activity in motivation-related brain areas in response to the onset and offset of the same emotional expression and highlight the importance of temporal characteristics of facial expressions for social communication
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