Novel, threatening or highly arousing images activate a brain area called the amygdala that is involved in emotional processing. Pictures of African-American faces are known to activate the amygdala, at least in caucasian people, but the underlying reason for that activity has remained controversial. A paper in the June issue of Nature Neuroscience now reports that African-American people also show amygdala activation in response to pictures of same-race faces, suggesting that this brain activity may result from learned cultural responses to racial groups.
In participants of both races, brain regions involved in emotion and motivation were more active in response to African-American faces than to caucasian faces. On the other hand, brain regions involved in social processes that are less emotional were more responsive to same-race faces than different-race faces for each group. Since African-American subjects were presumably exposed to many faces of the same race, the authors conclude that amygdala activity in response to African-American faces may reflect negative cultural attitudes toward the group rather than novelty.
Matthew Lieberman (University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Online publication can be accessed by clicking here.
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
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