The amygdala accountant: new tricks for an old structure
Nature Neuroscience (News and Views of Hernandi et al.), Feb 2015
C.P. Mosher & P.H. Rudebeck
Imagine you’ve just received your first paycheck and with it comes a heady rush of freedom. In this situation, you might immediately go out on Saturday morning and spend it on a cheap car to cement your independence. If, however, you’re a tad savvier with your money, you might stow it away securely in the bank with a plan to save up for a nicer, more dependable car, so as not to impulsively squander your money on a banger. What compels some of us to have the foresight to save for the future? What motivates each of us to save or spend on any given Saturday? A great deal is understood about saving and spending patterns from the fields of psychology and economics, but much less is known about its neural mechanisms. To begin filling this void, a study in Nature Neuroscience by Hernádi et al. reports that neurons in the amygdala, a structure nestled deep in the temporal lobe of the brain, signal long-term goal-oriented plans. For decades, the amygdala has been known to respond when a goal is achieved; for example, when a reward is delivered. But, until now, very few studies have shown that it is involved in the foresight required to set and pursue a distant goal.