The emotional homunculus: ERP evidence for independent somatosensory responses during facial emotional processing

Alex Sel, Bettina Forster, Beatriz Calvo-Merino

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Current models of face perception propose that initial visual processing is followed by activation of non-visual somatosensory areas that contributes to emotion recognition. To test whether there is a pure and independent involvement of somatosensory cortex (SCx) during face processing over and above visual responses, we directly measured participants’ somatosensory-evoked activity by tactually probing (105 ms post visual facial stimuli) the state of SCx during an emotion discrimination task, while controlling for visual effects. Discrimination of emotional versus neutral expressions enhanced early somatosensory-evoked activity between 40-80 ms post-stimulus, suggesting visual emotion processing in SCx. This effect was source localized within primary, secondary and associative somatosensory cortex. Emotional face processing influenced somatosensory responses to both face (congruent body part) and finger (control site) tactile stimulation, suggesting a general process that includes non-facial cortical representations. Gender discrimination of the same facial expressions did not modulate somatosensory-evoked activity. We provide novel evidence that SCx activation is not a byproduct of visual processing but is independently shaped by face emotion processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3263-3267
Number of pages5
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • Embodiment
  • Face perception
  • Simulation
  • Somatosensory Cortex
  • Somatosensory-evoked potentials

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