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J Neurosci. 2004 Nov 17;24(46):10364-8.

State anxiety modulation of the amygdala response to unattended threat-related stimuli.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge CB2 2EF, United Kingdom.


Findings from fear-conditioning studies in rats and functional neuroimaging with human volunteers have led to the suggestion that the amygdala is involved in the preattentive detection of threat-related stimuli. However, some neuroimaging findings point to attentional modulation of the amygdala response. The clinical-cognitive literature suggests that the extent to which the processing of threat-related stimuli is modulated by attention is crucially dependent on participants' anxiety levels. Here, we conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study with 27 healthy volunteers to examine whether amygdala responsivity to unattended threat-related stimuli varies with individual differences in state anxiety. Pairs of houses and faces (both fearful or neutral in expression) were presented, and participants attended to either the faces or the houses and matched these stimuli on identity. "Low-anxious" participants showed a reduced amygdala response to unattended versus attended fearful faces, but "high-anxious" participants showed no such reduction, having an increased amygdala response to fearful versus neutral faces regardless of attentional focus. These findings suggest that anxiety may interact with attentional focus to determine the magnitude of the amygdala response to threat-related stimuli.

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