Adolescence is a time of increased risk for the onset of psychological disorders associated with deficits in face emotion labeling. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine age-related differences in brain activation while adolescents and adults labeled the emotion on fearful, happy and angry faces of varying intensities [0% (i.e. neutral), 50%, 75%, 100%]. Adolescents and adults did not differ on accuracy to label emotions. In the superior temporal sulcus, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and middle temporal gyrus, adults show an inverted-U-shaped response to increasing intensities of fearful faces and a U-shaped response to increasing intensities of happy faces, whereas adolescents show the opposite patterns. In addition, adults, but not adolescents, show greater inferior occipital gyrus activation to negative (angry, fearful) vs positive (happy) emotions. In sum, when subjects classify subtly varying facial emotions, developmental differences manifest in several 'ventral stream' brain regions. Charting the typical developmental course of the brain mechanisms of socioemotional processes, such as facial emotion labeling, is an important focus for developmental psychopathology research. Published by Oxford University Press 2015. This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US.