Amygdala response to facial expressions in children and adults

Kathleen M. Thomas, Wayne C. Drevets, Paul J. Whalen, Clayton H. Eccard, Ronald E. Dahl, Neal D. Ryan, B. J. Casey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

378 Scopus citations


Background: The amygdala plays a central role in the human response to affective or emotionally charged stimuli, particularly fear-producing stimuli. We examined the specificity of the amygdala response to facial expressions in adults and children. Methods: Six adults and 12 children were scanned in a 1.5-T scanner during passive viewing of fearful and neutral faces using an EPI BOLD sequence. All scans were registered to a reference brain, and analyses of variance were conducted on the pooled data to examine interactions with age and gender. Results: Overall, we observed predominantly left amygdala and substantia innominata activity during the presentation of nonmasked fearful faces relative to fixation, and a decrease in activation in these regions with repeated exposure to the faces. Adults showed increased left amygdala activity for fearful faces relative to neutral faces. This pattern was not observed in the children who showed greater amygdala activity with neutral faces than with fearful faces. For the children, there was an interaction of gender and condition whereby boys but not girls showed less activity with repeated exposure to the fearful faces. Conclusions: This is the first study to examine developmental differences in the amygdala response to facial expressions using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-316
Number of pages8
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2001
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grant No. MH 41712, “The Psychobiology of Anxiety and Depression in Children & Adolescents” (Program Directors: Neal D. Ryan, M.D., and Ronald E. Dahl, M.D.; Project Principal Investigators: B.J. Casey, Ph.D. and Ronald E. Dahl, M.D.).


  • Amygdala
  • Development
  • Emotion
  • Faces
  • Facial expression
  • fMRI


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