The role of the amygdala in processing social and affective touch

Katalin M. Gothard, Andrew J. Fuglevand

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

The amygdala plays a central role in emotion and social behavior, yet its role in processing social and affective touch is not well established. Longitudinal studies reveal that touch-deprived infants show later in life exaggerated emotional reactivity related to structural and functional changes in the amygdala and other brain structures. The internal organization and connectivity of the amygdala is well-suited to process the sensory features of tactile stimuli and also the socio-cognitive dimensions of the received touch. The convergent processing of bottom-up and top-down pathways that carry information about touch results in the elaboration of context appropriate autonomic responses. Indeed, the positive value of affective touch in humans and social grooming in non-human primates is correlated with vagal tone and the release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids. Grooming, the non-human primate equivalent of affective touch in humans, reduces vigilance, that depends on the amygdala. During touch-induced vagal tone and low vigilance, neural activity in the amygdala is substantially different from activity corresponding to the attentive processing of tactile stimuli. Under these circumstances neurons no longer respond phasically to each touch stimulus, rather they signal a sustained functional state in which the amygdala appears decoupled from monitoring the external environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-53
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
Volume43
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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