The amygdala has been implicated in emotional processes, although the precise nature of the emotional deficits following amygdala lesions remains to be fully elucidated. Cognitive disturbances in the perception, recognition or memory of emotional stimuli have been suggested by some, whereas others have proposed changes in emotional arousal. To address this issue, measures of emotional arousal and valence (positivity and negativity) to a graded series of emotional pictures were obtained from patients with lesions of the amygdala and from a clinical contrast group with lesions that spared this structure. Relative to the contrast group, patients with damage to the amygdala evidenced a complete lack of an arousal gradient across negative stimuli, although they displayed a typical arousal gradient to positive stimuli. These results were not attributable to the inability of amygdala patients to process the hostile or hospitable nature of the stimuli, as the amygdala group accurately recognized and categorized both positive and negative features of the stimuli. The relative lack of emotional arousal to negative stimuli may account for many of the clinical features of amygdala lesions.
Keywords: affect; amygdala; arousal; emotion; lesion; valence.