Abstract

Studies in animals demonstrate a crucial role for the amygdala in emotional and social behavior, especially as related to fear and aggression. Whereas lesion and functional-imaging studies in humans indicate the amygdala’s participation in assessing the significance of nonverbal as well as paralinguistic cues, direct evidence for its role in the emotional processing of linguistic cues is lacking. In this study, we use a modified Stroop task along with a high-sensitivity neuroimaging technique to target the neural substrate engaged specifically when processing linguistic threat. Healthy volunteer subjects were instructed to name the color of words of either threat or neutral valence, presented in different color fonts, while neural activity was measured by using H215O positron-emission tomography. Bilateral amygdalar activation was significantly greater during color naming of threat words than during color naming of neutral words. Associated activations were also noted in sensory-evaluative and motor-planning areas of the brain. Thus, our results demonstrate the amygdala’s role in the processing of danger elicited by language. In addition, the results reinforce the amygdala’s role in the modulation of the perception of, and response to, emotionally salient stimuli. The current study further suggests conservation of phylogenetically older mechanisms of emotional evaluation in the context of more recently evolved linguistic function.

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Acknowledgments

We thank our subjects for their cooperation. We would also like to thank Ronald Blasberg, Ron Finn, and members of the Memorial-Sloan Kettering PET scanning facility. We would also like to thank the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and the De Witt-Wallace Fund of the New York Community Trust for their generous support.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 96 | No. 18
August 31, 1999
PubMed: 10468630

Classifications

Submission history

Received: April 20, 1999
Accepted: July 2, 1999
Published online: August 31, 1999
Published in issue: August 31, 1999

Acknowledgments

We thank our subjects for their cooperation. We would also like to thank Ronald Blasberg, Ron Finn, and members of the Memorial-Sloan Kettering PET scanning facility. We would also like to thank the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and the De Witt-Wallace Fund of the New York Community Trust for their generous support.

Authors

Affiliations

N. Isenberg
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
D. Silbersweig
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
A. Engelien
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
S. Emmerich
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
K. Malavade
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
B. Beattie
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
A. C. Leon
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818
E. Stern
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY 10021; and New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818

Notes

To whom reprint requests should be addressed at: New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, JFK Medical Center, P.O. Box 3059, 65 James Street, Edison, NJ 08818. E-mail: [email protected].
Communicated by Michael I. Posner, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY

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    Linguistic threat activates the human amygdala
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 96
    • No. 18
    • pp. 9967-10548

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