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Published 2007 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Spared ability to recognise fear from static and moving whole-body cues following bilateral amygdala damage


Bilateral amygdala lesions impair the ability to identify certain emotions, especially fear, from facial expressions, and neuroimaging studies have demonstrated differential amygdala activation as a function of the emotional expression of faces, even under conditions of subliminal presentation, and again especially for fear. Yet the amygdala's role in processing emotion from other classes of stimuli remains poorly understood. On the basis of its known connectivity as well as prior studies in humans and animals, we hypothesised that the amygdala would be important also for the recognition of fear from body expressions. To test this hypothesis, we assessed a patient (S.M.) with complete bilateral amygdala lesions who is known to be severely impaired at recognising fear from faces. S.M. completed a battery of tasks involving forced-choice labelling and rating of the emotions in two sets of dynamic body movement stimuli, as well as in a set of static body postures. Unexpectedly, S.M.'s performance was completely normal. We replicated the finding in a second rare subject with bilateral lesions entirely confined to the amygdala. Compared to healthy comparison subjects, neither of the amygdala lesion subjects was impaired in identifying fear from any of these displays. Thus, whatever the role of the amygdala in processing whole-body fear cues, it is apparently not necessary for the normal recognition of fear from either static or dynamic body expressions.

Additional Information

© 2007 Elsevier Ltd. Received 8 March 2007, Revised 6 April 2007, Accepted 17 April 2007, Available online 8 May 2007. A.P.A.'s contribution to this research was supported by a Short-term Fellowship from the Human Frontier Science Program (ST00302/2002-C), held at the Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, USA, and by a grant as part of the McDonnell Project in Philosophy and the Neurosciences. A.S.H. was supported by a training grant from the National Institutes of Health (T32-NS07413), held at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania. R.A.'s contribution was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. We are grateful to all the participants for their time and effort, to Dan Tranel for discussion and for facilitating access to brain-damaged subjects, to Elaine Behan for creating the Internet versions of the tasks and to Winand Dittrich for first suggesting the construction of the stimuli used in Tasks 3 and 4 and for his advice on their development.

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