Fear can be found in the eyes

Neuroscientist Ralph Adolphs has been working with a woman known only by the initials SM. She has damage to the amygdala on both sides of the brain, and although she can recognise emotions such as happiness, anger, surpise, sadness and disgust on people’s faces, she can’t recognise fear.


Adolphs investigated exactly what SM was looking at when she viewed emotional expressions and found that she rarely looked at the eyes. Most other emotional expressions can be recognised from other parts of the face, but recognising fear seems to particularly involve viewing the eyes.

When prompted to look specifically at the eyes, SM became a lot better at recognising fear, although quickly reverted back to avoiding them if not reminded.

The amygdala has been traditionally associated with emotion, particularly the negative emotions, but Adolphs suggest that maybe it has a wider function, also involving visual attention and analysis.

Why damage to the amygdala might specifically cause problems with viewing the eyes of other people remains to be investigated, as does whether SM’s ability to focus in on other parts of the face is entirely normal.

Link to story on nature.com

3 thoughts on “Fear can be found in the eyes”

  1. Finally Friday!

    Unable to think of a worthy excuse to not go into the office today, I am headed in–after three days off this week, and all of last week off. Yes, it’s FINALLY FRIDAY! Actually, I kind of like working from…

  2. Cool Mind Hacks stories

    Here is one about your brain acting on information, in this case sensing fear in eyes, with ultra-fast response times.
    And this other story about stereotyping — making judgments about the personality of strangers based on their appearance. Apparen…

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