Differential amygdala activation during simulated personal space intrusion by men and women

Neuroscience. 2016 Aug 25;330:12-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.05.023. Epub 2016 May 28.


Responses to personal space (PS) violations are variable and depend (besides many other factors) on the sex of the person who enters this space. The neuronal basis of this effect is still largely unknown. A previous neuroimaging investigation had shown that male participants responded with increased amygdala activation to PS violation, but only when the intruder was male. Gender-specific responses by females have not been studied yet. In the present study we recorded affective as well as hemodynamic responses of 30 women (mean age: M=27.3years; SD=8.1). The participants were exposed to images of neutral facial expressions from men and women. All stimuli were once shown as photos (static), and once were zoomed in (picture enlargement by the factor 2.75) in order to simulate PS intrusion. In both conditions ('static' and 'approaching' faces) the eyes and mouth region of the depicted persons were always completely visible. Approaching faces generally provoked activation of a parietal network (e.g., intraparietal sulcus, superior/inferior parietal cortex). When the approaching person was male additional amygdala activation was detected. Because the amygdala is a central structure for the initiation of defense responses, the heightened activation might reflect that male intrusion was decoded as potential threat. Hence, we observed a similar gender bias to simulated space intrusion in women as previously in men.

Keywords: amygdala; fMRI; parietal regions; personal space.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Computer Simulation
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Personal Space*
  • Self Report
  • Sex Characteristics