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Brain Res Brain Res Protoc. 2003 May;11(2):81-91.

Audition of laughing and crying leads to right amygdala activation in a low-noise fMRI setting.

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Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Brenneckestrasse 6, 39118 Magdeburg, Germany.


Adequate behavioral responses to socially relevant stimuli are often impaired after lesions of the amygdala. These impaired behavioral responses in particular concern the recognition of facial, and sometimes vocal, expressions of fear. Using low-noise functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in combination with controlled sound delivery, we investigated how the amygdala, insula and auditory cortex are involved in the processing of affective non-verbal vocalizations (laughing, crying) in healthy humans. The same samples of male and female laughing and crying were presented in two different experimental conditions: self-induction of the corresponding emotions while listening, and detection of artificial pitch shifts in the same stimuli. Both conditions led to bilateral activation of the amygdala, insula and auditory cortex with a right-hemisphere advantage in the amygdala, and larger activation during laughing than crying in the auditory cortex with a slight right-hemisphere advantage for laughing, both likely due to acoustic stimulus features. The results show that amygdala activation by emotionally meaningful sounds like laughing and crying is independent of the emotional involvement, suggesting the pattern recognition aspect of these sounds is crucial for this activation. This aspect was revealed by a low-noise fMRI protocol which presumably minimized confounding effects of stressful high-noise fMRI.

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