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The neural basis of authenticity recognition in laughter and crying

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Maciej Kosilo, Mónica Costa, Helen E. Nuttall, Hugo Ferreira, Sophie Scott, Sofia Menéres, José Pestana, Rita Jerónimo, Diana Prata

Original languageEnglish
Article number23750
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
PublishedDec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: We would like to thank the Direction of the Clinical Research Centre (Centro de Investigação Clínica, CIC) of the Lisbon Medical Academic Center (Centro Académico Médico de Lisboa, CAML), represented by Prof. Luís Costa, for making its facilities available for this data collection. We also thank César Lima and Ana Pinheiro for fruitful discussions regarding study design. DP was supported, during this work, by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-CIG-631952), the 2016 Bial Foundation Psychophysiology Grant (Ref. 292/16), the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia FCT Grants (IF/00787/2014, LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-030907 and DSAIPA/DS/0065/2018), and the iMM Lisboa Director’s Fund Breakthrough Idea Grant 2016; and is co-founder and shareholder of the neuroimaging research services company NeuroPsyAI, Ltd. MK was hired on the FCT IF/00787/2014 and LISBOA-01-0145-FEDER-030907 Grants. Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s).

King's Authors


Deciding whether others’ emotions are genuine is essential for successful communication and social relationships. While previous fMRI studies suggested that differentiation between authentic and acted emotional expressions involves higher-order brain areas, the time course of authenticity discrimination is still unknown. To address this gap, we tested the impact of authenticity discrimination on event-related potentials (ERPs) related to emotion, motivational salience, and higher-order cognitive processing (N100, P200 and late positive complex, the LPC), using vocalised non-verbal expressions of sadness (crying) and happiness (laughter) in a 32-participant, within-subject study. Using a repeated measures 2-factor (authenticity, emotion) ANOVA, we show that N100’s amplitude was larger in response to authentic than acted vocalisations, particularly in cries, while P200’s was larger in response to acted vocalisations, particularly in laughs. We suggest these results point to two different mechanisms: (1) a larger N100 in response to authentic vocalisations is consistent with its link to emotional content and arousal (putatively larger amplitude for genuine emotional expressions); (2) a larger P200 in response to acted ones is in line with evidence relating it to motivational salience (putatively larger for ambiguous emotional expressions). Complementarily, a significant main effect of emotion was found on P200 and LPC amplitudes, in that the two were larger for laughs than cries, regardless of authenticity. Overall, we provide the first electroencephalographic examination of authenticity discrimination and propose that authenticity processing of others’ vocalisations is initiated early, along that of their emotional content or category, attesting for its evolutionary relevance for trust and bond formation.

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