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Published October 11, 2011 | Accepted Version + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Single-Unit Responses Selective for Whole Faces in the Human Amygdala


The human amygdala is critical for social cognition from faces, as borne out by impairments in recognizing facial emotion following amygdala lesions and differential activation of the amygdala by faces. Single-unit recordings in the primate amygdala have documented responses selective for faces, their identity, or emotional expression, yet how the amygdala represents face information remains unknown. Does it encode specific features of faces that are particularly critical for recognizing emotions (such as the eyes), or does it encode the whole face, a level of representation that might be the proximal substrate for subsequent social cognition? We investigated this question by recording from over 200 single neurons in the amygdalae of seven neurosurgical patients with implanted depth electrodes. We found that approximately half of all neurons responded to faces or parts of faces. Approximately 20% of all neurons responded selectively only to the whole face. Although responding most to whole faces, these neurons paradoxically responded more when only a small part of the face was shown compared to when almost the entire face was shown. We suggest that the human amygdala plays a predominant role in representing global information about faces, possibly achieved through inhibition between individual facial features.

Additional Information

© 2011 Elsevier Ltd. Received 27 June 2011; revised 16 August 2011; Accepted 16 August 2011. Published online: September 29, 2011. Available online 29 September 2011. This research was supported in part by grants from the Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (R.A.), and the Max Planck Society (U.R.). We thank the staff of the Huntington Memorial Hospital Epilepsy and Brain Mapping Program for excellent support with participant testing, Erin Schuman for providing some of the recording equipment, and Frederic Gosselin for advice on the bubbles method.

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms721463.pdf

Supplemental Material - mmc1.pdf


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