The role of the amygdala in face perception and evaluation

Motiv Emot. 2012 Mar;36(1):16-26. doi: 10.1007/s11031-011-9238-5. Epub 2011 Aug 2.


Faces are one of the most significant social stimuli and the processes underlying face perception are at the intersection of cognition, affect, and motivation. Vision scientists have had a tremendous success of mapping the regions for perceptual analysis of faces in posterior cortex. Based on evidence from (a) single unit recording studies in monkeys and humans; (b) human functional localizer studies; and (c) meta-analyses of neuroimaging studies, I argue that faces automatically evoke responses not only in these regions but also in the amygdala. I also argue that (a) a key property of faces represented in the amygdala is their typicality; and (b) one of the functions of the amygdala is to bias attention to atypical faces, which are associated with higher uncertainty. This framework is consistent with a number of other amygdala findings not involving faces, suggesting a general account for the role of the amygdala in perception.