Differential response in the human amygdala to racial outgroup vs ingroup face stimuli

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Abstract

Here we describe response in the human amygdala to the presentation of racial outgroup vs ingroup faces. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures of brain activity were acquired while subjects who identified themselves as White or Black viewed photographs of both White and Black faces. Across all subjects, we observed significantly greater blood oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the amygdala to outgroup vs ingroup faces, but only during later stimulus presentations. A region of interest (ROI)-based analysis of these voxels revealed a significant interaction between amygdala response to outgroup and ingroup faces over time. Specifically, the greater amygdala activation to outgroup faces during later stimulus presentations was the result of amygdala response habituation to repeated presentations of ingroup faces with sustained responses to outgroup faces. The present results suggest that amygdala responses to human face stimuli are affected by the relationship between the perceived race of the stimulus face and that of the subject. Results are discussed as consistent with a role for the amygdala in encoding socially and/or biologically relevant information. We conclude that researchers seeking to study brain responses to face stimuli in human subjects should consider the relationship between the race of subjects and stimuli as a significant potential source of variance. Moreover, these data provide a foundation for future related studies in the neuroscience of social cognition and race.

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