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Looming animate and inanimate threats: The response of the amygdala and periaqueductal gray

Wednesday, November 06, 2013 — Poster Session I

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FAES Academic Center (Upper-Level Terrace)




  • ZT Nolan
  • DS Coker-Appiah
  • SF White
  • RL Clanton
  • RJR Blair


OBJECTIVE: Looming stimuli are processed as threatening and activate basic neural defense systems. However, it is unclear how animacy information modulates this response. METHODS: Participants (N= 25) viewed threatening or neutral images that were either animate (animals) or inanimate (objects) and which either approached (loomed) or receded from the participant while undergoing functional MRI. RESULTS: The amygdala was responsive to emotional, animacy and looming information (particularly to looming threats and looming animate stimuli). Periaqueductal gray was also sensitive to emotional information and particularly responsive to looming threats. CONCLUSIONS: The current study indicates that defensive responding is shown to looming stimuli particularly when these stimuli are either threatening or animate. In short, while there is a general defensive reaction to looming stimuli, this is particularly marked for threatening and animate looming stimuli. This suggests that basic threat behaviors (flight-fight) and the activation of the circuitry mediating them (particularly the amygdala) occurs more readily to evolutionary-relevant animate entities than to equally threatening, but manmade, modern objects.

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