The human amygdala is necessary for developing and expressing normal interpersonal trust

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Mar;49(4):602-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.09.023. Epub 2010 Oct 27.


The human amygdala is known to be involved in processing social, emotional, and reward-related information. Previous reports have indicated that the amygdala is involved in extracting trustworthiness information from faces. Interestingly, functional neuroimaging research using economic tasks that presumably require developing and/or expressing interpersonal trust, such as the Trust Game (TG), have not routinely identified involvement of the amygdala. The present study sought to explore the role of the amygdala in developing and expressing interpersonal trust, via a multi-round, multiplayer economic exchange, a version of the TG, in a large sample of participants with focal brain damage. Participants with unilateral damage to the amygdala displayed increased benevolent behavior in the TG, and specifically, they tended to increase trust in response to betrayals. On the other hand, neurologically normal adults tended to repay trust in kind, i.e., they decreased interpersonal trust in response to betrayals or increased trust in response to increases from others. Comparison participants, with brain damage that does not include the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal or insular cortices, tended to behave ambivalently to the expressed trust or betrayal of others. Our data suggest that the amygdala is necessary for developing and expressing normal interpersonal trust. This increased tendency to behave benevolently in response to defections from others may be related to the abnormal social behavior observed in this group. Moreover, increased benevolence may increase the likelihood or opportunity to be taken advantage of by others.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / pathology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Beneficence*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / pathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Social Perception
  • Trust*