What does the amygdala contribute to social cognition?
The amygdala has received intense recent attention from neuroscientists investigating its function at the molecular, cellular, systems, cognitive, and clinical level. It clearly contributes to processing emotionally and socially relevant information, yet a unifying description and computational account have been lacking. The difficulty of tying together the various studies stems in part from the sheer diversity of approaches and species studied, in part from the amygdala's inherent heterogeneity in terms of its component nuclei, and in part because different investigators have simply been interested in different topics. Yet, a synthesis now seems close at hand in combining new results from social neuroscience with data from neuroeconomics and reward learning. The amygdala processes a psychological stimulus dimension related to saliency or relevance; mechanisms have been identified to link it to processing unpredictability; and insights from reward learning have situated it within a network of structures that include the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum in processing the current value of stimuli. These aspects help to clarify the amygdala's contributions to recognizing emotion from faces, to social behavior toward conspecifics, and to reward learning and instrumental behavior.