Visual cortical regions show sufficient test-retest reliability while salience regions are unreliable during emotional face processing

Timothy J. McDermott, Namik Kirlic, Elisabeth Akeman, James Touthang, Kelly T. Cosgrove, Danielle C. DeVille, Ashley N. Clausen, Evan J. White, Rayus Kuplicki, Robin L. Aupperle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies frequently use emotional face processing tasks to probe neural circuitry related to psychiatric disorders and treatments with an emphasis on regions within the salience network (e.g., amygdala). Findings across previous test-retest reliability studies of emotional face processing have shown high variability, potentially due to differences in data analytic approaches. The present study comprehensively examined the test-retest reliability of an emotional faces task utilizing multiple approaches to region of interest (ROI) analysis and by examining voxel-wise reliability across the entire brain for both neural activation and functional connectivity. Analyses included 42 healthy adult participants who completed an fMRI scan concurrent with an emotional faces task on two separate days with an average of 25.52 days between scans. Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) were calculated for the ‘FACES-SHAPES’ and ‘FACES’ (compared to implicit baseline) contrasts across the following: anatomical ROIs identified from a publicly available brain atlas (i.e., Brainnetome), functional ROIs consisting of 5-mm spheres centered on peak voxels from a publicly available meta-analytic database (i.e., Neurosynth), and whole-brain, voxel-wise analysis. Whole-brain, voxel-wise analyses of functional connectivity were also conducted using both anatomical and functional seed ROIs. While group-averaged neural activation maps were consistent across time, only one anatomical ROI and two functional ROIs showed good or excellent individual-level reliability for neural activation. The anatomical ROI was the right medioventral fusiform gyrus for the FACES contrast (ICC ​= ​0.60). The functional ROIs were the left and the right fusiform face area (FFA) for both FACES-SHAPES and FACES (Left FFA ICCs ​= ​0.69 & 0.79; Right FFA ICCs ​= ​0.68 & 0.66). Poor reliability (ICCs ​< ​0.4) was identified for almost all other anatomical and functional ROIs, with some exceptions showing fair reliability (ICCs ​= ​0.4–0.59). Whole-brain voxel-wise analysis of neural activation identified voxels with good (ICCs ​= ​0.6–0.74) to excellent reliability (ICCs ​> ​0.75) that were primarily located in visual cortex, with several clusters in bilateral dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Whole-brain voxel-wise analyses of functional connectivity for amygdala and fusiform gyrus identified very few voxels with good to excellent reliability using both anatomical and functional seed ROIs. Exceptions included clusters in right cerebellum and right DLPFC that showed reliable connectivity with left amygdala (ICCs ​> ​0.6). In conclusion, results indicate that visual cortical regions demonstrate good reliability at the individual level for neural activation, but reliability is generally poor for salience regions often focused on within psychiatric research (e.g., amygdala). Given these findings, future clinical neuroimaging studies using emotional faces tasks to examine individual differences might instead focus on visual regions and their role in psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117077
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Affect
  • Connectivity
  • Individual differences
  • Intraclass correlation
  • Replication


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