Brain cells wired to react to animals

September 11th, 2011 - 5:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 11 (IANS) Why do some people pat every furry animal on the street, while others shrink in fright at the sight of a shark or a snake even on TV? Whatever is your response to animals, blame it on a specific part of your brain.

Neurons (brain cells) throughout the amygdala - the brain area known for processing emotions - respond to images of animals, say researchers. Amygdala neurons are hardwired to detect creatures of the non-human kind.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of California, Los Angeles team monitored single-neuron responses in the amygdala of 41 epilepsy patients as they viewed images of people, animals, landmarks or objects.

“Our study shows that neurons in the human amygdala respond preferentially to pictures of animals,” says Florian Mormann, the biologist who led the study, according to a Caltech statement.

“We saw the most amount of activity in cells when the patients looked at cats or snakes versus buildings or people. This preference extends to cute as well as ugly or dangerous animals and appears to be independent of the emotional contents of the pictures,” says Mormann.

“Remarkably, we find this response behaviour only in the right and not in the left amygdala,” he adds, according to the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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