The Human Basolateral Amygdala Is Indispensable for Social Experiential Learning

Lisa Rosenberger, Christoph Eisenegger, Michael Naef, David Terburg, Jorique Fourie, Dan J. Stein, Jack van Honk

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Trust and betrayal are central to our social world, and adaptive responses to generous and selfish behavior are crucial to our economic and social well-being [1]. We learn about others’ trustworthiness through trial and error during repeated interactions [2]. By reinforcing and suppressing behavior during positive and negative interactions with conspecifics, rodent research has established a crucial role for the basolateral amygdala (BLA) in social experiential learning [3, 4]. The human BLA has undergone a reorganization with massive expansion relative to other amygdala nuclei [5], and there is no translational research on its role in experiential learning. The human amygdala is traditionally researched as a single structure [6], neglecting the sub-nuclei’s structural und functional differences [7], which might explain inconsistent findings in research on social interactions [8, 9]. Here, we study whether the human BLA is necessary for social and non-social experiential learning by testing a group of five humans with selective bilateral damage to the BLA. We compared their learning behavior in a repeated trust game, and a non-social control task, to healthy, matched controls. Crucially, BLA-damaged subjects, unlike control subjects, completely failed to adapt their investments when interacting with a trustworthy and an untrustworthy partner. In the non-social task, BLA-damaged subjects learned from positive outcomes but differed from the controls by not learning from negative outcomes. Our data extend findings in rodent research by showing that the human BLA is essential for social experiential learning and provide confirmatory evidence of divergent mechanisms for differentially valenced outcomes in non-social learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3532-3537
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
Early online date10 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2019


  • Basolateral amygdala
  • Trust
  • Trust game
  • Social learning
  • Decision Making
  • Urbach-Wiethe disease
  • Brain lesion
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuroeconomics

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