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Prog Brain Res. 2006;156:363-78.

Role of the amygdala in processing visual social stimuli.

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  • 1Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, HSS 228-77, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


We review the evidence implicating the amygdala as a critical component of a neural network of social cognition, drawing especially on research involving the processing of faces and other visual social stimuli. We argue that, although it is clear that social behavioral representations are not stored in the amygdala, the most parsimonious interpretation of the data is that the amygdala plays a role in guiding social behaviors on the basis of socioenvironmental context. Thus, it appears to be required for normal social cognition. We propose that the amygdala plays this role by attentionally modulating several areas of visual and somatosensory cortex that have been implicated in social cognition, and in helping to direct overt visuospatial attention in face gaze. We also hypothesize that the amygdala exerts attentional modulation of simulation in somatosensory cortices such as supramarginal gyrus and insula. Finally, we argue that the term emotion be broadened to include increased attention to bodily responses and their representation in cortex.

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