Culture, gaze and the neural processing of fear expressions

Reginald B. Adams, Robert G. Franklin, Nicholas O. Rule, Jonathan B. Freeman, Kestutis Kveraga, Nouchine Hadjikhani, Sakiko Yoshikawa, Nalini Ambady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The direction of others' eye gaze has important influences on how we perceive their emotional expressions. Here, we examined differences in neural activation to direct-versus averted-gaze fear faces as a function of culture of the participant (Japanese versus US Caucasian), culture of the stimulus face (Japanese versus US Caucasian), and the relation between the two. We employed a previously validated paradigm to examine differences in neural activation in response to rapidly presented direct-versus averted-fear expressions, finding clear evidence for a culturally determined role of gaze in the processing of fear. Greater neural responsivity was apparent to averted-versus direct-gaze fear in several regions related to face and emotion processing, including bilateral amygdalae, when posed on same-culture faces, whereas greater response to direct-versus averted-gaze fear was apparent in these same regions when posed on other-culture faces. We also found preliminary evidence for intercultural variation including differential responses across participants to Japanese versus US Caucasian stimuli, and to a lesser degree differences in how Japanese and US Caucasian participants responded to these stimuli. These findings reveal a meaningful role of culture in the processing of eye gaze and emotion, and highlight their interactive influences in neural processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsp047
Pages (from-to)340-348
Number of pages9
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Dec 17 2009


  • Amygdala
  • Cross-cultural psychology
  • Eye gaze
  • Face perception
  • Facial expression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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