Neural responses to facial expression and face identity in the monkey amygdala

February 2007


The amygdala is purported to play an important role in face processing, yet the specificity of its activation to face stimuli and the relative contribution of identity and expression to its activation are unknown. In the current study, neural activity in the amygdala was recorded as monkeys passively viewed images of monkey faces, human faces, and objects on a computer monitor. Comparable proportions of neurons responded selectively to images from each category. Neural responses to monkey faces were further examined to determine whether face identity or facial expression drove the face-selective responses. The majority of these neurons (64%) responded both to identity and facial expression, suggesting that these parameters are processed jointly in the amygdala. Large fractions of neurons, however, showed pure identity-selective or expression-selective responses. Neurons were selective for a particular facial expression by either increasing or decreasing their firing rate compared with the firing rates elicited by the other expressions. Responses to appeasing faces were often marked by significant decreases of firing rates, whereas responses to threatening faces were strongly associated with increased firing rate. Thus global activation in the amygdala might be larger to threatening faces than to neutral or appeasing faces.