The newly discovered deficit in a bilateral amygdala-damaged case, of not being able to allocate attention to the critical feature of a face (Adolphs R, Gosselin F, Buchanan TW, Tranel D, Schyns P, Damasio AR. 2005. A mechanism for impaired fear recognition after amygdala damage. Nature. 433:68 - 72.), has opened a new window into the function of the amygdala. This case implies that the amygdala might be essential in detecting potentially relevant social stimuli, and directing attention accordingly. In this study, we have sought to test this implication by investigating the behavioral performance of 5 unilateral amygdala-damaged subjects on spatial cueing tasks. The tasks employed central gaze and arrow direction as cues to trigger attentional orienting in peripheral target detection. Although age-matched normal controls demonstrated a significant congruency effect such that targets presented congruently to cue direction elicited faster detection, amygdala subjects demonstrated no such congruency effect for gaze cues in the face of a significant congruency effect for arrow cues. The results suggest that the social valence of a stimulus is critical for amygdala involvement in visual processing. The results also support the implicated role of the amygdala in detecting and analyzing relevant social stimuli, and orienting attention accordingly.
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