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Neuropsychologia. 2007 Jun 11;45(10):2369-77. Epub 2007 Feb 6.

Amygdala activation and facial expressions: explicit emotion discrimination versus implicit emotion processing.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Aachen, Germany.


Emotion recognition is essential for social interaction and communication and is a capacity in which the amygdala plays a central role. So far, neuroimaging results have been inconsistent as to whether the amygdala is more active during explicit or incidental facial emotion processing. In consideration of its functionality in fast automatic evaluation of stimuli and involvement in higher-order conscious processing, we hypothesize a similar response to the emotional faces presented regardless of attentional focus. Using high field functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) specifically optimized for ventral brain regions we show strong and robust amygdala activation for explicit and implicit processing of emotional facial expressions in 29 healthy subjects. Bilateral amygdala activation was, however, significantly greater when subjects were asked to recognize the emotion (explicit condition) than when required to discern the age (implicit condition). A significant correlation between amygdala activation and emotion recognition, but not age discrimination performance, emphasizes the amygdala's enhanced role during conscious emotion processing.

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