Differential hemispheric and visual stream contributions to ensemble coding of crowd emotion


In crowds, where scrutinizing individual facial expressions is inefficient, humans can make snap judgments about the prevailing mood by reading ‘crowd emotion’. We investigated how the brain accomplishes this feat in a set of behavioural and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Participants were asked to either avoid or approach one of two crowds of faces presented in the left and right visual hemifields. Perception of crowd emotion was improved when crowd stimuli contained goal-congruent cues and was highly lateralized to the right hemisphere. The dorsal visual stream was preferentially activated in crowd emotion processing, with activity in the intraparietal sulcus and superior frontal gyrus predicting perceptual accuracy for crowd emotion perception, whereas activity in the fusiform cortex in the ventral stream predicted better perception of individual facial expressions. Our findings thus reveal significant behavioural differences and differential involvement of the hemispheres and the major visual streams in reading crowd versus individual face expressions.

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Fig. 1: Sample face images, sample trials of crowd emotion and individual emotion conditions, and the results from experiment 1.
Fig. 2: RH dominance for goal-relevant crowd emotion in crowd emotion processing.
Fig. 3: Effect of the sex-specific identity cue of facial crowds on crowd emotion perception.
Fig. 4: Distinct neural pathways preferentially involved in dorsal and ventral visual pathways for crowd emotion and individual emotion processing, respectively.
Fig. 5: Brain activations by different types of avoidance comparisons.


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This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01MH101194) to K.K. and R.B.A. Jr. Data collection was conducted at the Pennsylvania State University. Informed written consent was obtained for all the studies according to the procedures of the Institutional Review Board at the Pennsylvania State University. The participants received a course credit for their participation. No funders had any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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H.Y.I., R.B.A. Jr and K.K. developed the study concept and all authors contributed to the study design. Testing and data collection were performed by H.Y.I, C.A.C., T.G.S. and D.N.A. H.Y.I analysed the data and all authors wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Kestutis Kveraga.

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Supplementary Results; Supplementary Figures 1–10; Supplementary Tables 1–4

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Im, H., Albohn, D.N., Steiner, T.G. et al. Differential hemispheric and visual stream contributions to ensemble coding of crowd emotion. Nat Hum Behav 1, 828–842 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0225-z

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