Visual elements of subjective preference modulate amygdala activation

Moshe Bar, Maital Neta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

217 Scopus citations


What are the basic visual cues that determine our preference towards mundane everyday objects? We previously showed that a highly potent cue is the nature of the object's contour: people generally like objects with a curved contour compared with objects that have pointed features and a sharp-angled contour. This bias is hypothesized here to stem from an implicit perception of potential threat conveyed by sharp elements. Using human neuroimaging to test this hypothesis, we report that the amygdala, a brain structure that is involved in fear processing and has been shown to exhibit activation level that is proportional to arousal in general, is significantly more active for everyday sharp objects (e.g., a sofa with sharp corners) compared with their curved contour counterparts. Therefore, our results indicate that a preference bias towards a visual object can be induced by low-level perceptual properties, independent of semantic meaning, via visual elements that on some level could be associated with threat. We further present behavioral results that provide initial support for the link between the sharpness of the contour and threat perception. Our brains might be organized to extract these basic contour elements rapidly for deriving an early warning signal in the presence of potential danger.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2191-2200
Number of pages10
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank K. Kveraga for programming tools used for filtering stimuli, as well as those used for both the recording and collection of voice responses to the filtered images used in the pilot for Experiment 3. We also thank E. Aminoff, M. Fenske, N. Gronau, M. Vangel, P. Whalen, and G. Wolford for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation #21002039, NINDS R01 NS044319 and NS050615, the MIND Institute, and resource support by #5P41RR014075.


  • Arousal
  • Contour
  • Form
  • Shape
  • Threat
  • fMRI


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