The amygdala's historical role in processing stimuli related to threat and fear is being modified to suggest a role that is broader and more abstract. Amygdala lesions impair the ability to seek out and make use of the eye region of faces, resulting in impaired fear perception. Other studies in rats and humans revive earlier proposals that the amygdala is important not only for fear perception as such, but also for detecting saliency and biological relevance. Debates about some features of this processing now suggest that while the amygdala can process fearful facial expressions in the absence of conscious perception, and while there is some degree of preattentive processing, this depends on the context and is not necessarily more rapid than cortical processing routes. A large current research effort extends the amygdala's putative role to a number of psychiatric illnesses.