The amygdala: is it an essential component of the neural network for social cognition?
Observations from human subjects with focal brain lesions and animal subjects with experimental lesions have implicated a variety of brain regions in the mediation of social behavior. Previous studies carried out in the macaque monkey found that lesions of the amygdala not only decrease emotional reactivity but also disrupt normal social interactions. We have re-investigated the relationship between amygdala lesions and social behavior in cohorts of mature and neonatal rhesus monkeys who were prepared with selective and complete bilateral ibotenic acid lesions of the amygdaloid complex. These animals display clear alterations in emotional and social behavior. We interpret these changes as due to a loss of the ability to evaluate environmental stimuli as potential threats. However, adult animals with bilateral lesions of the amygdala demonstrate normal, and even increased, social interactions with conspecifics. Moreover, neonatal animals, prepared with amygdala lesions at 2 weeks of age, also demonstrate species typical social behaviors such as the generation of facial expressions, grooming and play behavior. These results argue against the idea that the amygdala is essential for the interpretation of social communication or for the expression of social behavior. Because it does appear to participate in the evaluation of the "safety" of social interactions, we believe that it does have a role in modulating the amount of social behavior in which an organism will participate. However, our current answer to the question posed in the title of this paper is no!