Selective Changes in Foraging Behavior Following Bilateral Neurotoxic Amygdala Lesions in Rhesus Monkeys

Christopher J. Machado, Nathan J. Emery, William A. Mason, David G Amaral

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Across a variety of species, the amygdala appears to play a key role in the detection and avoidance of potential dangers (e.g., unfamiliar social partners, novel objects or contexts, potential predators, etc.). For many species, seeking out appropriate food sources and avoiding novel, distasteful or potentially tainted food is also a daily concern. Amygdala damage in nonhuman primates has been linked to increased willingness to select unfamiliar or unpalatable foods, as well as inedible items that intact animals typically reject. However, such findings have not always been consistent and have typically been observed in relatively restrictive, laboratory-based testing contexts. We evaluated the food choices of six adult male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) with bilateral, neurotoxic amygdala lesions and six age- and experienced-matched unoperated control animals. Each animal was able to forage freely in a large enclosure stocked with five preferred and five nonpreferred foods that changed locations each day. While both groups quickly selected palatable foods, monkeys with amygdala lesions consistently selected unpalatable foods that the unoperated control animals generally avoided. Even after repeated presentations of the unpalatable foods, the amygdala-lesioned monkeys failed to change their initial pattern of diminished avoidance. These results are consistent with a general role for the amygdala in danger detection and prevention of harm in the presence of novel or noxious stimuli, regardless of whether such stimuli are conspecifics, predators, objects or foods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-772
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Amygdala
  • Avoidance
  • Danger
  • Food preference
  • Foraging
  • Nonhuman primate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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