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Published March 2004 | Published
Journal Article Open

Impaired judgments of sadness but not happiness following bilateral amygdala damage


Although the amygdala's role in processing facial expressions of fear has been well established, its role in the processing of other emotions is unclear. In particular, evidence for the amygdala's involvement in processing expressions of happiness and sadness remains controversial. To clarify this issue, we constructed a series of morphed stimuli whose emotional expression varied gradually from very faint to more pronounced. Five morphs each of sadness and happiness, as well as neutral faces, were shown to 27 subjects with unilateral amygdala damage and 5 with complete bilateral amygdala damage, whose data were compared to those from 12 brain-damaged and 26 normal controls. Subjects were asked to rate the intensity and to label the stimuli. Subjects with unilateral amygdala damage performed very comparably to controls. By contrast, subjects with bilateral amygdala damage showed a specific impairment in rating sad faces, but performed normally in rating happy faces. Furthermore, subjects with right unilateral amygdala damage performed somewhat worse than subjects with left unilateral amygdala damage. The findings suggest that the amygdala's role in processing of emotional facial expressions encompasses multiple negatively valenced emotions, including fear and sadness.

Additional Information

© 2004 The MIT Press. We thank Jeremy Nath, Jocelyn Spoon, and Jenny Schulz for help in testing subjects, and Denise Kruzfeldt and Ruth Henson for help in scheduling. Supported in part by a program project grant from NINDS, and by a 21st Century Science Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation to RA.

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