A number of mental disorders involve dysfunction in facial emotion recognition, that often entails biases in their interpretation (e.g., towards negative interpretations). Emotion recognition dysfunction has received considerable attention in psychological and neuroscientific research given its relation to social well-being and psychopathology in clinical groups and the general population. Emotional states are considered one route cause of these biases due to their involvement in mental disorders and tie to emotion perception in psychological theory. However, there is a poor understanding of whether emotions in fact bias perception (as opposed to judgment) of facial emotions, and the neural bases of associative and perceptual processes underlying this bias. The current proposal applies cutting-edge methods across social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience to address these outstanding questions. It is proposed that the orbitofrontal cortex provides top- down emotional predictions which bias perceptual facial emotion representations in the fusiform gyrus. This research has the potential to provide significant insights into the nature of emotion-perception interactions, with considerable implications for the study of their deficits in mental disorders. Specifically, the proposed studies apply advanced connectivity and multivariate voxel pattern analyses to fMRI data to explore the perceptual and neural basis of emotional biases in facial emotion perception, and a human lesion patient study to investigate the causal role of brain regions in this process. The experiments study the impact of sad and happy transient emotional states and moods on facial emotion perceptions. Overall, the proposal aims to (i) assess whether emotion perception biases occur at perceptual levels of processing, (ii) involve interaction of the OFC and FG perhaps through the inferior occipitofrontal fasciculus (IFOF), and (iii) whether the OFC plays a causal role in providing top-down biases towards the emotion perceptions. The candidate has proposed a thorough training plan to acquire proficiency in the integration of theories and methods of social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience to answer the research questions at hand. The training plan at New York University (NYU) is ideal given the departmental resources for fMRI and lesion patient studies, access to lecture training experiences (colloquia, workshops, journal clubs, lab meetings), and advanced courses in related theory and methodology. Importantly, the proposal includes sponsors who are experts at the forefront of interdisciplinary studies into the neural bases of face perception (Dr. Freeman) and emotion (Dr. Phelps). Together, the mentorship team provide a promising opportunity for the candidate to obtain premier training in the proposed theoretical and methodological areas. The long-term goal of this training plan is to provide the candidate with training to complete the proposed research and pursue a tenure-track faculty position to continue advancing this research area.
Emotional states play a significant and integral role in facial emotion perception, yet there is a lack of research describing the neural basis of this interaction. Research explaining this process is critical as emotion recognition dysfunction due to emotional states is common across many mental disorders, and is related to social well-being and psychopathology in clinical populations and the general population. We propose an experimental program implementing cutting-edge techniques across social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience to identify the associative and perceptual neural bases of this process, which may contribute to future treatments and interventions.