The amygdala is a brain region best known for regulating emotion. But a new study reveals a previously unknown talent: recognizing animals. Researchers asked 41 epilepsy patients who'd had electrodes implanted in their brains in preparation for surgery to watch a computer monitor as 100 photos of people, animals, landmarks, and objects flashed onscreen. After analyzing the responses of 1445 neurons in the amygdala and neighboring regions, the team reports today in Nature Neuroscience that the right amygdala (but no other region) contains neurons that respond specifically to photos of animals . These neurons fired in response to animals but not people (not even a young Brad Pitt, as shown above), regardless of the angle or distance from which the shot was taken, and as a group they showed no preference for any particular category of animal, be it bird or mammal, dangerous, or potentially delicious. The researchers speculate that these responses reflect the importance of animals as both predators and prey in our evolutionary past.
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