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Neurology. 2000 Feb 8;54(3):575-81.

Fear recognition deficits after focal brain damage: a cautionary note.

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  • 1Neurology Section, VA Medical Center, Tucson, AZ 85723, USA.



To test the hypothesis that fear recognition deficits in neurologic patients reflect damage to an emotion-specific neural network.


Previous studies have suggested that the perception of fear in facial expressions is mediated by a specialized neural system that includes the amygdala and certain posterior right-hemisphere cortical regions. However, the neuropsychological findings in patients with amygdala damage are inconclusive, and the contribution of distinct cortical regions to fear perception has only been examined in one study.


We studied the recognition of six basic facial expressions by asking subjects to match these emotions with the appropriate verbal labels.


Both normal control subjects (n = 80) and patients with focal brain damage (n = 63) performed significantly worse in recognizing fear than in recognizing any other facial emotion, with errors consisting primarily of mistaking fear for surprise. Although patients were impaired relative to control subjects in recognizing fear, we could not obtain convincing evidence that left, right, or bilateral lesions were associated with disproportionate impairments of fear perception once we adjusted for differences in overall recognition performance for the other five facial emotion categories. The proposed special role of the amygdala and posterior right-hemisphere cortical regions in fear perception was also not supported.


Fear recognition deficits in neurologic patients may be attributable to task difficulty factors rather than damage to putative neural systems dedicated to fear perception.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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