Attentional modulation of the amygdala varies with personality

Steven B. Most, Marvin M. Chun, Matthew R. Johnson, Kent A. Kiehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


The amygdala is implicated in emotional processing, and its rich subcortical connections have led to suggestions that processing of emotional stimuli occurs independently of attention. Using a novel attentional manipulation in conjunction with fMRI, we showed that emotion-related amygdala activity was modulated by attention, but that the degree of such modulation correlated with the personality variable harm avoidance, associated with trait anxiety. Participants ignored emotional distractors while searching through a rapid stream of pictures for a target, about which they were provided either specific or nonspecific descriptive information (e.g., "look for a building" versus "look for a landscape or building"). Thus, they employed either a specific or a nonspecific attentional set in order to find the target and ignore distractors. In response to irrelevant emotional distractors, low harm-avoidant participants had relatively little emotion-related amygdala activity regardless of whether they maintained a specific or nonspecific attentional set. High harm-avoidant participants, however, showed strong emotion-related amygdala activity when maintaining a nonspecific attentional set and lower amygdala activity when maintaining a specific attentional set. This decrease was accompanied by increased activation of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is often linked with the resolution of affective interference. In addition to demonstrating individual differences in attentional modulation of the amygdala, these results may indicate that the rostral ACC is sensitive to the increased effort that high harm-avoidant individuals must recruit in order to modulate amygdala responsivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)934-944
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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