Fear and the human amygdala

J Neurosci. 1995 Sep;15(9):5879-91. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.15-09-05879.1995.


We have previously reported that bilateral amygdala damage in humans compromises the recognition of fear in facial expressions while leaving intact recognition of face identity (Adolphs et al., 1994). The present study aims at examining questions motivated by this finding. We addressed the possibility that unilateral amygdala damage might be sufficient to impair recognition of emotional expressions. We also obtained further data on our subject with bilateral amygdala damage, in order to elucidate possible mechanisms that could account for the impaired recognition of expressions of fear. The results show that bilateral, but not unilateral, damage to the human amygdala impairs the processing of fearful facial expressions. This impairment appears to result from an insensitivity to the intensity of fear expressed by faces. We also confirmed a double dissociation between the recognition of facial expressions of fear, and the recognition of identity of a face: these two processes can be impaired independently, lending support to the idea that they are subserved in part by anatomically separate neural systems. Based on our data, and on what is known about the amygdala's connectivity, we propose that the amygdala is required to link visual representations of facial expressions, on the one hand, with representations that constitute the concept of fear, on the other. Preliminary data suggest the amygdala's role extends to both recognition and recall of fearful facial expressions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Art
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology
  • Brain Diseases / psychology
  • Emotions
  • Face
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Social Behavior