Nonlinear amygdala response to face trustworthiness: Contributions of high and low spatial frequency information

Christopher P. Said, Sean G. Baron, Alexander Todorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Previous neuroimaging research has shown amygdala sensitivity to the perceived trustworthiness of neutral faces, with greater responses to untrustworthy compared with trustworthy faces. This observation is consistent with the common view that the amygdala encodes fear and is preferentially responsive to negative stimuli. However, some studies have shown greater amygdala activation to positive compared with neutral stimuli. The first goal of this study was to more fully characterize the amygdala response to face trustworthiness by modeling its activation with both linear and nonlinear predictors. Using fMRI, we report a nonmonotonic response profile, such that the amygdala responds strongest to highly trustworthy and highly untrustworthy faces. This finding complicates future attempts to make inferences about mental states based on activation in the amygdala. The second goal of the study was to test for modulatory effects of image spatial frequency filtering on the amygdala response. We predicted greater amygdala sensitivity to face trustworthiness for low spatial frequency images compared with high spatial frequency images. Instead, we found that both frequency ranges provided sufficient information for the amygdala to differentiate faces on trustworthiness. This finding is consistent with behavioral results and suggests that trustworthiness information may reach the amygdala through pathways carrying both coarse and fine resolution visual signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-528
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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