The human amygdala plays a stimulus specific role in the detection of novelty

Neuroimage. 2011 Apr 15;55(4):1889-98. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.01.034. Epub 2011 Jan 20.


The primary focus of research on the amygdala has been on the detection of and response to emotion but the amygdala also sometimes responds to new or unexpected stimuli without specific emotional content. Very little is currently known about why the amygdala responds to some new stimuli but not to others. Here we investigated the conditions that are necessary and sufficient for the expression of novelty specific amygdala responses by presenting novel and repeated images to human participants and varying the content of these images while measuring blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses. In Experiment 1 we presented novel and repeated emotional and neutral images. Both emotional and neutral images of humans evoked more amygdala activity when novel than when repeated. In Experiment 2 we presented novel and repeated images of humans and scenes. Images of humans but not scenes evoked more amygdala activity when novel than when repeated. Our results suggest that the amygdala plays a stimulus-specific role in the brain's novelty detection network. Surprisingly, emotion was not necessary for amygdalar novelty responses, but the presence of a human representation was important. Amygdala responses evoked by novel faces may reflect our need to use others' faces as clues for important events in the environment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult