Alessia Pannese, Didier Grandjean and Sascha Frühholz, "Amygdala and auditory cortex exhibit distinct sensitivity to acoustic features of auditory emotions" in Cortex, Elsevier, Volume 85, December 2016, pp. 116-125
Discriminating between auditory signals of different affective value is critical to successful social interaction. It is commonly held that acoustic decoding of such signals occurs in the auditory system, whereas affective decoding occurs in the amygdala. However, given that the amygdala receives direct subcortical projections that bypass the auditory cortex, it is possible that some acoustic decoding occurs in the amygdala as well, when the acoustic features are relevant for affective discrimination. We tested this hypothesis by combining functional neuroimaging with the neurophysiological phenomena of repetition suppression (RS) and repetition enhancement (RE) in human listeners. Our results show that both amygdala and auditory cortex responded differentially to physical voice features, suggesting that the amygdala and auditory cortex decode the affective quality of the voice not only by processing the emotional content from previously processed acoustic features, but also by processing the acoustic features themselves, when these are relevant to the identification of the voice's affective value. Specifically, we found that the auditory cortex is sensitive to spectral high-frequency voice cues when discriminating vocal anger from vocal fear and joy, whereas the amygdala is sensitive to vocal pitch when discriminating between negative vocal emotions (i.e., anger and fear). Vocal pitch is an instantaneously recognized voice feature, which is potentially transferred to the amygdala by direct subcortical projections. These results together provide evidence that, besides the auditory cortex, the amygdala too processes acoustic information, when this is relevant to the discrimination of auditory emotions.