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Neuropsychologia. 2007 Jan 28;45(2):236-44. Epub 2006 Sep 12.

Amygdala damage impairs emotion recognition from music.

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Department of Psychology, University of Montreal, CP 6128, Succ Centre-ville, Montréal, Que, Canada.


The role of the amygdala in recognition of danger is well established for visual stimuli such as faces. A similar role in another class of emotionally potent stimuli -- music -- has been recently suggested by the study of epileptic patients with unilateral resection of the anteromedian part of the temporal lobe [Gosselin, N., Peretz, I., Noulhiane, M., Hasboun, D., Beckett, C., & Baulac, M., et al. (2005). Impaired recognition of scary music following unilateral temporal lobe excision. Brain, 128(Pt 3), 628-640]. The goal of the present study was to assess the specific role of the amygdala in the recognition of fear from music. To this aim, we investigated a rare subject, S.M., who has complete bilateral damage relatively restricted to the amygdala and not encompassing other sectors of the temporal lobe. In Experiment 1, S.M. and four matched controls were asked to rate the intensity of fear, peacefulness, happiness, and sadness from computer-generated instrumental music purposely created to express those emotions. Subjects also rated the arousal and valence of each musical stimulus. An error detection task assessed basic auditory perceptual function. S.M. performed normally in this perceptual task, but was selectively impaired in the recognition of scary and sad music. In contrast, her recognition of happy music was normal. Furthermore, S.M. judged the scary music to be less arousing and the peaceful music less relaxing than did the controls. Overall, the pattern of impairment in S.M. is similar to that previously reported in patients with unilateral anteromedial temporal lobe damage. S.M.'s impaired emotional judgments occur in the face of otherwise intact processing of musical features that are emotionally determinant. The use of tempo and mode cues in distinguishing happy from sad music was also spared in S.M. Thus, the amygdala appears to be necessary for emotional processing of music rather than the perceptual processing itself.

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