Increased amygdala activation to neutral faces is associated with better face memory performance

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Recent evidence suggests that the role of the amygdala may extend beyond threat detection to include processing socially relevant stimuli in general. Thus, we investigated perception and memory for neutral faces; a stimulus-type that lacks emotional valence yet contains relevant social information. Participants viewed neutral faces or houses when undergoing functional MRI. Neutral face memory testing was conducted outside the scanner. In the functional MRI of faces vs. houses contrast, significant bilateral activation in the amygdala and lateral fusiform gyrus was observed. Increased bilateral amygdala activation was associated with better delayed-memory performance. These findings indicate that the role of the amygdala may include processing neutral yet socially relevant stimuli. Further, amygdala activation, independent of emotional valence, appears to be associated with memory enhancement.

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