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Published March 2015 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Preferential attention to animals and people is independent of the amygdala


The amygdala is thought to play a critical role in detecting salient stimuli. Several studies have taken ecological approaches to investigating such saliency, and argue for domain-specific effects for processing certain natural stimulus categories, in particular faces and animals. Linking this to the amygdala, neurons in the human amygdala have been found to respond strongly to faces, and also to animals. Yet the amygdala's necessary role for such category-specific effects at the behavioral level remains untested. Here we tested four rare patients with bilateral amygdala lesions on an established change-detection protocol. Consistent with prior published studies, healthy controls showed reliably faster and more accurate detection of people and animals, as compared to artifacts and plants. But so did all four amygdala patients: there were no differences in phenomenal change blindness, in behavioral reaction time to detect changes, or in eye-tracking measures. The findings provide decisive evidence against a critical participation of the amygdala in rapid, initial processing of attention to animate stimuli, suggesting that the necessary neural substrates for this phenomenon arise either in other subcortical structures (such as the pulvinar) or within cortex itself.

Additional Information

© 2014 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/), which permits non-commercial reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. First published online: May 1, 2014. This research was supported by grants from NIMH and the Simons Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We thank Claudia Wilimzig for providing some of the stimuli, Ty Basinger for creating some of the stimuli, Peter Foley for help with the statistical analysis, and Mike Tyszka for providing the anatomical scans of the lesion patients. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Author Contributions: S.W, N.T., J.N. and R.A. designed experiments. R.H. contributed two patients with amygdala lesions. S.W. and N.T. performed experiments and analyzed data. S.W. and R.A. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and made comments on the paper.

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Published - Soc_Cogn_Affect_Neurosci-2015-Wang-371-80.pdf

Supplemental Material - scan-13-461-File002.pdf


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