The face-selective region of the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) plays an important role in analysing facial expressions. However, it is less clear how facial expressions are represented in this region. In this study, we used the face composite effect to explore whether the pSTS contains a holistic or feature-based representation of facial expression. Aligned and misaligned composite images were created from the top and bottom halves of faces posing different expressions. In Experiment 1, participants performed a behavioural matching task in which they judged whether the top half of two images was the same or different. The ability to discriminate the top half of the face was affected by changes in the bottom half of the face when the images were aligned, but not when they were misaligned. This shows a holistic behavioural response to expression. In Experiment 2, we used fMR-adaptation to ask whether the pSTS has a corresponding holistic neural representation of expression. Aligned or misaligned images were presented in blocks that involved repeating the same image or in which the top or bottom half of the images changed. Increased neural responses were found in the right pSTS regardless of whether the change occurred in the top or bottom of the image, showing that changes in expression were detected across all parts of the face. However, in contrast to the behavioural data, the pattern did not differ between aligned and misaligned stimuli. This suggests that the pSTS does not encode facial expressions holistically. In contrast to the pSTS, a holistic pattern of response to facial expression was found in the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Together, these results suggest that pSTS reflects an early stage in the processing of facial expression in which facial features are represented independently.
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