As a central fear processor of the brain, the amygdala initiates a cascade of critical physiological and behavioral responses. Neuroimaging studies have shown that the human amygdala responds not only to fearful and angry facial expressions but also to fearful and threatening scenes such as attacks, explosions, and mutilations. Given the relative importance of facial expressions in adaptive social behavior, we hypothesized that the human amygdala would exhibit a stronger response to angry and fearful facial expressions in comparison to other fearful and threatening stimuli. Twelve subjects completed two tasks while undergoing fMRI: matching angry or fearful facial expressions, and matching scenes depicting fearful or threatening situations derived from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). While there was an amygdala response to both facial expressions and IAPS stimuli, direct comparison revealed that the amygdala response to facial expressions was significantly greater than that to IAPS stimuli. Autonomic reactivity, measured by skin conductance responses, was also greater to facial expressions. These results suggest that the human amygdala shows a stronger response to affective facial expressions than to scenes, a bias that should be considered in the design of experimental paradigms interested in probing amygdala function.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience