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Dynamic human and avatar facial expressions elicit differential brain responses


Kegel, Lorena Chantal; Brugger, Peter; Frühholz, Sascha; Grünwald, Thomas; Hilfiker, Peter; Kohnen, Oona; Loertscher, Miriam L; Mersch, Dieter; Rey, Anton; Sollfrank, Teresa; Steiger, Bettina K; Sternagel, Joerg; Weber, Michel; Jokeit, Hennric (2020). Dynamic human and avatar facial expressions elicit differential brain responses. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 15(3):303-317.

Abstract

Computer-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.

Abstract

Computer-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.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Neurology
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Life Sciences > Cognitive Neuroscience
Language:English
Date:19 May 2020
Deposited On:10 Nov 2020 17:33
Last Modified:24 May 2024 01:41
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1749-5016
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa039
PubMed ID:32232359
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)