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Impaired fixation to eyes following amygdala damage arises from abnormal bottom-up attention

Kennedy, Daniel P. and Adolphs, Ralph (2010) Impaired fixation to eyes following amygdala damage arises from abnormal bottom-up attention. Neuropsychologia, 48 (12). pp. 3392-3398. ISSN 0028-3932. PMCID PMC2949539; PMC3277210.

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SM is a patient with complete bilateral amygdala lesions who fails to fixate the eyes in faces and is consequently impaired in recognizing fear (Adolphs et al., 2005). Here we first replicated earlier findings in SM of reduced gaze to the eyes when seen in whole faces. Examination of the time course of fixations revealed that SM's reduced eye contact is particular pronounced in the first fixation to the face, and less abnormal in subsequent fixations. In a second set of experiments, we used a gaze-contingent presentation of faces with real time eye tracking, wherein only a small region of the face is made visible at the center of gaze. In essence, viewers explore the face by moving a small searchlight over the face with their gaze. Under such viewing conditions, SM's fixations to eye region of faces became entirely normalized. We suggest that this effect arises from the absence of bottom-up effects due to the facial features, allowing gaze location to be driven entirely by top-down control. Together with SM's failure to fixate the eyes in whole faces primarily at the very first saccade, the findings suggest that the saliency of the eyes normally attract our gaze in an amygdala-dependent manner. Impaired eye gaze is also a prominent feature of several psychiatric illnesses in which the amygdala has been hypothesized to be dysfunctional, and our findings and experimental manipulation may hold promise for interventions in such populations, including autism and fragile X syndrome.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle CentralArticle CentralReprint
Kennedy, Daniel P.0000-0002-5915-0893
Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Additional Information:© 2010 Elsevier Ltd. Received 21 May 2010; accepted 16 June 2010. Available online 1 July 2010. We thank Dr. Fred Gosselin for generously providing software used to spatially align the stimuli, Brian Cheng for assistance with data collection, and Dirk Neumann for helpful advice and discussions. Supported by NIMH and the Simons Foundation.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)UNSPECIFIED
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Eye tracking; Gaze-contingent; Autism; Bottom-up; Intervention; Eye contact
Issue or Number:12
PubMed Central ID:PMC2949539; PMC3277210
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20101011-112920424
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:20381
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:10 Nov 2010 17:32
Last Modified:17 Jan 2020 23:33

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