We used event-related fMRI to assess whether brain responses to fearful versus neutral faces are modulated by spatial attention. Subjects performed a demanding matching task for pairs of stimuli at prespecified locations, in the presence of task-irrelevant stimuli at other locations. Faces or houses unpredictably appeared at the relevant or irrelevant locations, while the faces had either fearful or neutral expressions. Activation of fusiform gyri by faces was strongly affected by attentional condition, but the left amygdala response to fearful faces was not. Right fusiform activity was greater for fearful than neutral faces, independently of the attention effect on this region. These results reveal differential influences on face processing from attention and emotion, with the amygdala response to threat-related expressions unaffected by a manipulation of attention that strongly modulates the fusiform response to faces.
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