Thursday, February 28, 2013

Amygdala damage can make us more generous

From van Honk et al.:
Contemporary economic models hold that instrumental and impulsive behaviors underlie human social decision making. The amygdala is assumed to be involved in social-economic behavior, but its role in human behavior is poorly understood. Rodent research suggests that the basolateral amygdala (BLA) subserves instrumental behaviors and regulates the central-medial amygdala, which subserves impulsive behaviors. The human amygdala, however, typically is investigated as a single unit. If these rodent data could be translated to humans, selective dysfunction of the human BLA might constrain instrumental social-economic decisions and result in more impulsive social-economic choice behavior. Here we show that humans with selective BLA damage and a functional central-medial amygdala invest nearly 100% more money in unfamiliar others in a trust game than do healthy controls. We furthermore show that this generosity is not caused by risk-taking deviations in nonsocial contexts. Moreover, these BLA-damaged subjects do not expect higher returns or perceive people as more trustworthy, implying that their generous investments are not instrumental in nature. These findings suggest that the human BLA is essential for instrumental behaviors in social-economic interactions.
Here is the anatomical location of the human lesions:

MR images (coronal view) of the three subjects with Urbach–Wiethe disease (UWD), with their year of birth and red crosshairs indicating the calcified brain damage...the lesions of the three patients are located in the BLA...the functional method shows activation during emotion matching in the superficial amygdala (SFA) and CMA, but not in the BLA.

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