A look of fear on another persons face is instantly recognizable. The split-second ability of the amygdala, a small, almond-shaped structure deep in the brain, distinguishes fear in facial expressions. In particular, the amygdala relies heavily on visual information contained in the eye region to detect fear.
A new study by scientists at the University of Iowa, the California Institute of Technology and their colleagues sheds more light on how the amygdala works. The study, published in the Jan. 6 issue of Nature, suggests that the mechanism by which the amygdala contributes to processing visual information about facial expressions is by actively directing a persons gaze to the eye region to seek out and fixate on the critical visual cues for fear.
"People often think of the brain as passively receiving information from the senses about the world. This study shows that there are mechanisms in the brain that allow us to actively seek out information in the environment in the first place," said Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., UI adjunct professor of neurology and professor of psychology and neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology.
Jennifer Brown | EurekAlert!
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