Lesson 1: The Amygdala – Our Emotional Command Center

The amygdala plays an important role in the processing of our emotions. The amygdala is part of our limbic system, which is a set of structures in the brain that controls emotions, memory, and arousal. This system is composed of several parts and is found within the cerebrum, which is right above the brainstem.  

The amygdala is one of two almond-shaped clusters of nerve cells in the cerebrum. These two clusters are involved in preparing the body for emergency situations such as being startled or surprised.

This part of the brain is also responsible for storing memories for future use. For example, if a traumatic event happens to you or you experience a bad visit at a doctor’s office, this part of the brain will remind you of that event to act as a “protection” for the future. 

The amygdala is also known as the brain’s “Fear and Worry” Center. Research suggests that our brain is programmed to crave something to fear. In recent studies, brains were monitored while watching the news, of which 80% of news stories are negatively based, during the experiment while watching “bad news” the brain scans lit up. The opposite was true when positive news was shown, the electrical activity was quiet. This study shows that we are biologically programmed to crave doom and gloom- we need it just like we need vitamins. 

People who are affected by depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and phobias are thought to have an abnormal functioning amygdala.  

The amygdala is responsible for why we are fearful of situations beyond our control. It also controls the way we respond to specific emotional stimuli, particularly the kind that we view as threatening or dangerous. 

If the amygdala were removed, we would no longer fear situations of any kind. This has been tested with rats, and studies show they will walk right up to a cat with no fear if they do not have an amygdala. 

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