The human amygdala and the emotional evaluation of sensory stimuli

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2003 Jan;41(1):88-123. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(02)00248-5.


A wealth of animal data implicates the amygdala in aspects of emotional processing. In recent years, functional neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies have begun to refine our understanding of the functions of the amygdala in humans. This literature offers insights into the types of stimuli that engage the amygdala and the functional consequences that result from this engagement. Specific conclusions and hypotheses include: (1) the amygdala activates during exposure to aversive stimuli from multiple sensory modalities; (2) the amygdala responds to positively valenced stimuli, but these responses are less consistent than those induced by aversive stimuli; (3) amygdala responses are modulated by the arousal level, hedonic strength or current motivational value of stimuli; (4) amygdala responses are subject to rapid habituation; (5) the temporal characteristics of amygdala responses vary across stimulus categories and subject populations; (6) emotionally valenced stimuli need not reach conscious awareness to engage amygdala processing; (7) conscious hedonic appraisals do not require amygdala activation; (8) activation of the amygdala is associated with modulation of motor readiness, autonomic functions, and cognitive processes including attention and memory; (9) amygdala activations do not conform to traditional models of the lateralization of emotion; and (10) the extent and laterality of amygdala activations are related to factors including psychiatric status, gender and personality. The strengths and weakness of these hypotheses and conclusions are discussed with reference to the animal literature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Sexuality / physiology