Activation of the left amygdala to a cognitive representation of fear

Elizabeth A. Phelps, Kevin J. O'Connor, J. Christopher Gatenby, John C. Gore, Christian Grillon, Michael Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined the neural substrates involved when subjects encountered an event linked verbally, but not experientially, to an aversive outcome. This instructed fear task models a primary way humans learn about the emotional nature of events. Subjects were told that one stimulus (threat) represents an aversive event (a shock may be given), whereas another (safe) represents safety (no shock will be given). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), activation of the left amygdala was observed in response to threat versus safe conditions, which correlated with the expression of the fear response as measured by skin conductance. Additional activation observed in the insular cortex is proposed to be involved in conveying a cortical representation of fear to the amygdala. These results suggest that the neural substrates that support conditioned fear across species have a similar but somewhat different role in more abstract representations of fear in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-441
Number of pages5
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Activation of the left amygdala to a cognitive representation of fear'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this