How Emotional Learning Influences Your Choices
OK. So, what does all this mean for you? It;means that your amygdala subconsciously influences your behavior and decisions today based on past emotional learning of which you may not even be aware. If emotional memories trigger your amygdala and your logical brain goes offline, your choices at that point become fear based and reactionary not goal oriented and logical.
When your amygdala is running the show, you end up going through life trying to avoid what it remembers as bad instead of making conscious choices to live the life you want and taking steps towards happiness and fulfillment. In;Are You Living According To What You Want Or According to What You Dont Want?, I write:
This a fear-based existence where life becomes a marathon;obstacle course;of trying to avoid;instead of trying to achieve.; Trying to avoid pain.; Trying to avoid loneliness.; Trying to avoid failure.; A person can focus on and exert;so much energy avoiding what they dont want that what they do want becomes;secondary with pitiful little progress made in that direction.
What Is The Amygdala
The amygdala is often referred to as the fear center of the brain, but this description hardly does justice to the amygdala’s complexity. Located deep in the brain’s left and right temporal lobes, our two amygdalae are important for numerous aspects of thought, emotion and behavior, and are implicated in a variety of neurological and psychiatric conditions.
The brains two almond-shaped amygdalae are typically no bigger than a couple cubic centimeters in adults and are found near the center of the brain. Although the two halves of the amygdala work together, there also appear to be some aspects of amygdala function that predominate on each side.
31934-4?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2211124717319344%3Fshowall%3Dtrue” rel=”nofollow”>Beyeler et al. 2018.);
Basic Anatomy Of The Amygdala
The amygdala, or the amygdaloid complex, is a group of nuclei. Also, it consists of the so-called cortical regions. It is positioned in the medial temporal lobe. Moreover, it is located rostrally to the hippocampus and tail of the nucleus caudatus. It is considered one of the basal ganglia and is part of the limbic system.
There are two major parts of the amygdala: centrocorticomedial and basolateral . Each part has specific neuroanatomical connections and specific functions.;
For example, the lateral nucleus is the main entry area to the amygdala since it receives sensory information from various brain regions.
The main exit areas are the central core, associated with the brainstem nuclei, and the basal nucleus connected with the striatum. This is important in understanding the functions of the amygdala.
The amygdala is extensively reciprocally associated with numerous cortical and subcortical structures.
Those include the sensory cortex , the polymodal associative cortex, the hippocampus, and the entorhinal cortex, the prefrontal cortex, the sensory part of the truncus encephali, and the hypothalamus .
Traditionally, two major neuroanatomical pathways as connections to the rest of the brain structures are recognized. Those are the stria terminalis and the ventral amygdalofugal pathway.
Beyond Emotion: Understanding The Amygdalas Role In Memory
Illustration of the basolateral amygdala , hippocampus , and perirhinal cortex and electrical signals from each region during a recognition test trial. 3-D brain model adapted with permission from AMC Virtual Brain Model. Image courtesy of Cory Inman, Emory University
The amygdalae, a pair of small almond-shaped regions deep in the brain, help regulate emotion and encode memoriesespecially when it comes to more emotional remembrances. Now, new research from Emory University suggests that direct stimulation of the amygdala via deep brain stimulation; electrodes can enhance a persons recognition of images seen the day before, leading to the possibility of potential DBS treatment for patients with memory-related disorders.
The amygdala and memory
The amygdala may be best known as the part of the brain that drives the so-called fight or flight response. While it is often associated with the bodys fear and stress responses, it also plays a pivotal role in memory.
One role we are very familiar with, when it comes to the amygdala and memory, is that of emotional salience, says Jon T. Willie, M.D., Ph.D., neurosurgeon and director of the laboratory for behavioral neuromodulation at Emory University in Atlanta. If you have an emotional experience, the amygdala seems to tag that memory in such a way so that it is better remembered.
Stimulating memory, but not emotion
Challenges of DBS as a treatment
Even Superheros Sometimes Need Help
Even though our bodies have these super stressresponse systems, humans are best at dealing with stress when they have a little help. This help is called social support, which refers to the ways that other people can help us feel safe, loved, and cared for . Your friends and family may provide social support by hugging you when you are sad or scared, hanging out with you when you feel lonely, or celebrating with you when you are excited. We especially need social support when we are very young. Remember earlier when we mentioned that the amygdala shares a special connection with the prefrontal cortex? This connection does not mature until you are a teenager; therefore, infants and children rely on their parents to help them calm down.
- Figure 2 – This study compared the brains of children and teenagers while they viewed emotional faces.
- When looking at negative emotional faces you can see that the childrens amygdala activity was decreased when their mothers were present. This tells us that the moms were buffering stressresponse systems in the children by providing social support. The teenagers amygdala activity increased when they viewed the emotional faces even though their mothers were present.
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Why Am I So Emotional
The emotional brain is the oldest, most primitive part of our brain, which was only ever designed to ensure physical survival. Why? Because in early times, it was only about physical survival. You were a good ol’ fashioned caveman in a jungle and your only call to action was to watch out for snakes, bears, foxes and other cavemen fighting for your meat and fruit.;You needed a kind of brain that is quick, hyper-vigilant and out of consciousness, because consciousness would have been capable of wiping you off the face of the earth.;
“Ohhhh….I see…this is indeed a snake..hmmm…let me think…what should I do? It appears that I need a sophisticated plan to handle this…Oh, and by the way, I’m speaking from my grave.”
You needed a visceral and autonomous brain for physical survival.;And nature gave it to you. This is your emotional brain.;
Can you see why our innate, basic emotions like fear are so automatic?;
Over the course of evolution, the emotional brain wasn’t really replaced. Thank goodness! Even today, I really need it to be quick and automatic if I run into that snake again. Or an axe murderer. Or a falling tree branch. Or my mother-in-law.
Our emotional brain wasn’t replaced, but nature somehow figured that in this new, modern world, your needs are different. You no longer need to fight so much for physical survival, but more for social and psychological survival.
Now geared with this understanding, let’s come back to the amygdala.
What To Do About It
Symptoms that arise from this type of brain activity can typically be treated with medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors , for example, are frequently prescribed for people who suffer from persistent panic attacks and anxiety. However, psychotherapy can also be very effective, as it teaches you to separate panic sensations from threat responses.
In addition, simple lifestyle adjustments can have tremendous benefits. Sufferers often find comfort in physical activity, sufficient rest, relaxation techniques like yoga, as wells as talking to others with similar problems.;
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What Happens When Stress Lasts A Long Time
Stress comes in many different forms. The example we have used throughout this article is encountering a bear. Seeing a bear is typically a short-term stressor, because you would probably get out of that stressful situation quickly. Feeling stressed is normal and good for detecting danger in the environment. But for some people, stress becomes a normal part of life. Imagine if you were bullied at school. Going to school every day might become scary or stressful. Short-term stress causes short bursts of a lot of cortisol. If the HPA axis is activated continuously, as with long-term stress, the stressresponse system will change to try and deal with long-term stress . The stressresponse system changes by making less cortisol since there is so much in the body. This causes an imbalance of cortisol and poor functioning of the stressresponse system.
Connections With Subcortical Brain Regions
The amygdala has connections with several subcortical regions, including the basal forebrain, diencephalon, and brainstem. Some of these fibers course in the ventral amygdalofugal pathway, which runs ventral to the globus pallidus . Others course in a thin fiber bundle termed the stria terminalis, which takes a more circuitous route dorsal to the internal capsule. Projections from the dorsal thalamus to the amygdala arise mainly from the midline thalamic nuclei and medial part of the medial geniculate nucleus and adjacent posterior thalamic nuclei. These projections, which terminate primarily in the basolateral and central amygdalar nuclei, convey auditory, somatosensory, viscerosensory, and visual information to the amygdala. Amygdalothalamic projections are more limited and consist of projections from the central nucleus to the midline thalamic nuclei and from the basolateral amygdala to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus. Because the latter nucleus has extensive reciprocal connections with the prefrontal cortex, it provides an indirect link by which the amygdala can influence the activity of the prefrontal region.
Figure 3. Medial view of the human brain illustrating the connections of the amygdala with subcortical brain regions. All connections are reciprocal except those to the caudate and nucleus accumbens, which do not have projections back to the amygdala. HT, hypothalamus; LC, locus ceruleus; PAG, periaqueductal gray; VTA, ventral tegmental area.
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Can Understanding The Amygdala Help Us Cure Anxiety
As of now, the best ways to treat anxiety are by either cultivating mindfulness, doing meditation or doing cognitive behavioral therapy .
However, there is some exciting new research that suggests that it will soon be possible to actually train the amygdala to respond more to positive memories and respond less to negative memories using the technology of biofeedback. In this therapeutic technique, the technology of either the EEG or an fMRI is actually used to show you the activity state of your amygdala. And then this allows you to learn how to decrease or increase the level of your amygdala activity.
These technologies are still in the research phase, but there is great hope that they will be available for general use in the near future.
Another possible treatment for anxiety that is still is the research phase, and that has been found to reduce anxiety is the use of training techniques that extinguish the fear response. The extinction of a fear response involves presenting a feared object or situation to a person in a completely safe setting. The idea is that a person learns that the feared object say a spider or a gun is not necessarily harmful, and their amygdala stops producing a fight or flight response to these objects.
Simple Steps To Reduce Anxiety In The Moment
Here are some simple things that you can do try to reduce anxiety in the moment.
- Take Deep Breaths and Slow Down Your Breathing: I can remember one time when I used deep and slow breathing to calm my anxiety while I was climbing a face to get over a high pass in the Himalaya. A thunderstorm came, and the lightning was so close that I could hear it sizzle. I was on a face, scared out of my wits and I was hyperventilating and gasping for breath. I got myself in hand by taking control of my breathing. I slowed my breath down and took deep breaths and survived the storm.
Apart from fear exposure, there are other ways to encourage the amygdala to remain calm. These involve decreasing the bodily and mental stressors within your control that contribute to how severely you react to external stressors outside of your control. Taking the steps below can help you to cultivate a healthier body and mind, and to decrease the frequency with which bad life experiences set off the amygdalas fight or flight response.
Even though you cant see or feel it, theres a lot you can do to help keep that small, almond shaped bit of your brain in check when you find that its working overtime. Taking care of your body and mind is the first step you should take. Once you do this, you will be better prepared to face the stressors in your life and hopefully retrain your amygdala to stop reacting to the non-threatening stimuli that produce anxiety.
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What Is The Function Of The Amygdala
This is spelled out in great detail in a June 2012 review article in the journal Bipolar Disorders by Stephen Strakowski of the University of Cincinnati et al. According to the article:
Effectively, with diminished prefrontal modulation, the limbic brain is hypothesized to be dysregulated, leading to the emotional extremes of mania, depression, and mixed states.
These emotional networks form feedback and feedforward systems involving various subcortical structures that in turn connect to other areas of the brain. For instance, the anterior cingulate cortex sits at the intersection of cognitive and emotional prefrontal functions, thereby integrating information processing.
According to the article, with bipolar subjects the emotional areas of the anterior cingulate may be over-activated while the cognitive aspects are under-activated. In effect, the anterior cingulate is like a confused driver, with opposite reactions to the same stimuli, one foot on the gas and the other on the brake.
Its complicated. The authors throw around terms such as ventral prefrontal-striatal-pallidal-thalamic iterative networks, but the bottom line involves modulating that pesky amygdala.
Where Is The Amygdala
The amygdala is a collection of nuclei found deep within the temporal lobe. The term amygdala comes from Latin and translates to “almond,” because one of the most prominent nuclei of the amygdala has an almond-like shape. Although we often refer to it in the singular, there are two amygdalaeone in each cerebral hemisphere.
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Understanding Damage To The Amygdala
The amygdala helps control our fear response, but it also plays a crucial role in many other cognitive functions. Therefore, damage to the amygdala can cause serious problems, such as poor decision-making and impaired emotional memories.
Fortunately, with the right combination of therapy and medication, you can reduce the symptoms of amygdala damage and get back control of your life. Good luck!
The Amygdala And Anxiety: Whats The Connection
We all experience anxiety throughout our lives, with varying degrees of intensity. Stressful situations that you go through, such as facing a job interview, exams, or a conference that you have to speak at, put you through the mill. They create fear, uncertainty, or anxiety about whats going to happen and whether youre going to do well.
These experiences, however complex they may seem to you, are completely normal. However, it isnt normal to suffer constant anxiety.
Sometimes, theres no specific trigger. You can feel a permanent sense of anxiety that you cant explain, and that alters your entire reality, both physically and psychologically. This anxiety is pathological and acts like a poison that affects your health and potential.
Psychological conditions such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, can affect you and are linked to anxiety. Because of this, neuroscientists have wondered for decades what actually happens in the human brain and what brain structures cause this anxiety.
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Independance Motivation And Hope
My son Sharat suffered a severe traumatic brain injury 23 years ago leaving him with Aphasia and right sided weakness from his vision,hearing to his limbs. The lockdown in June was a great challenge for him as his caregivers stopped coming, no gym workouts and no outings for a coffee.
Being his mother and primary carer I feared that this was a hotbed for depression. I scoured the net and chanced upon FlintRehab. As there was a trial period it was safe for us to risk getting it across to Auckland.
His OT checked it out and felt that it was ideal. I can honestly second this.
He enjoys working on it and now after three months can do it on his own. His left hand helps his right hand. The FitMi video explains and shows him what to do, it gives him marks and applauds him too!!
He has to use both sides of his brain. The caregivers are OT students who returned enjoy working on it with him.
In three months there motivation built up in him with a drive to use his right hand. There is definitely a slight improvement in his right hand.
This encourages him as well as the caregivers to try harder.His overall mood is upbeat. He enjoys it, so much so, that it doesnt matter if his caregiver is away.
FitMi is a blessing.
The Amygdala And Psychiatric Disorders
More subtle disruptions in typical amygdala function are associated with a variety of psychiatric disorders. Dysfunction of the amygdala has been observed in patients with anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias.;
“Many studies using human brain imaging have shown that the amygdala is overactivated in patients with these anxiety disorders, as well as in patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” Beyeler said. In many other psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and substance use disorders , dysfunction of the amygdala also appears to be involved, although the relationships between the amygdala and these disorders has not been as well studied.
There may also be differences in the way the amygdala functions in people with autism relative to neurotypical people. Individuals with autism may have more active amygdalae on average, and their amygdalae may notdull their response after repeated exposure to the same stimulus, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Psychiatry.;
Given the amygdala’s multitude of functions, the oversimplification of simply calling it the brain’s fear center is understandable. With further study, experts are likely to discover even more processes in which this small region of the brain is involved.
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