That almond-shaped structure we call amygdala is typically thought of as solely (or mainly) involved in negative affect. However, some studies have suggested that the amygdala is also involved in other processes, such as novelty (of faces). It should come as a big surprise, however, to many researchers that this structure is also involved in positive emotions. It runs counter to many ideas and interpretations of amygdala activation in, e.g., fMRI studies.
- amygdala plays a role in positive affect, and therefore not exclusively — or even mainly — in negative affect
- contrary to an inﬂuential model, recent evidence points to a distinction between emotion and reward and contradicts previous conclusions about the role of the amygdala in reward processing
- the amygdala is not a single “thing” but a conglomerate of structures playing different roles in emotional and non-emotional processes
The research reviewed is, as always in the case of Murray, well supported and yet controversial. To anyone studying emotions and reward, it’s a must-read. But even to people studying other functions and regions, it’s a principal discussion and a well-needed lesson in the still-present oversimplified neo-phrenology seen in cognitive neuroscience.
So next time you see the amygdala light up during a brain scan, resort from interpreting it as a sign of anxiety or fear.