The Amygdala: Definition, Role & Function

Lesson Transcript
John Williams
Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

The amygdala is a section of the brain that is responsible for detecting fear and preparing for emergency events. This lesson discusses the amygdala, its functions, and its role in our perception of fear and other emotions. Updated: 07/31/2020

The Role of Fear

Do you have any fears? For some people, their biggest fear may be death. For others, it may be public speaking. In fact, most humans will have at least one or more things that they fear in life, no matter how dangerous or innocent the object of that fear may be.

But there is a reason for that. Fear often helps us with self-preservation. We feel fear, as well as related emotions, in order to protect ourselves from danger and to heighten our awareness. This awareness is thought to be controlled by a section of the brain known as the amygdala. Let's discuss the amygdala and how it functions in the well being of the human body.

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  • 0:01 The Role of Fear
  • 0:40 Definition and…
  • 2:10 Fear and the Amygdala
  • 3:14 Effects of Damaged Amygdalae
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Definition and Function of the Amygdala

The amygdala is an almond-shaped section of nervous tissue located in the temporal (side) lobe of the brain. There are two amygdalae per person normally, with one amygdala on each side of the brain. They are thought to be a part of the limbic system within the brain, which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. However, this inclusion has been debated heavily, with evidence that the amygdalae function independently of the limbic system.

The amygdala is responsible for the perception of emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, as well as the controlling of aggression. The amygdala helps to store memories of events and emotions so that an individual may be able to recognize similar events in the future. For example, if you have ever suffered a dog bite, then the amygdalae may help in processing that event and, therefore, increase your fear or alertness around dogs. The size of the amygdala is positively correlated with increased aggression and physical behavior.

The amygdala in humans also plays a role in sexual activity and libido, or sex drive. It can change in size and shape based on the age, hormonal activity, and gender of the individual. For example, males who have low testosterone, or who may have been castrated, (had their testicles removed), tend to have smaller amygdalae, and, in turn, may also have a lower sex drive.

Fear and the Amygdala

It is important to state that the amygdalae are most functional in immediate fear situations. Whenever our senses detect a change in our surroundings that could be dangerous, the amygdalae are responsible for preparing the body for escape or defense. This is part of what is known as the startle circuit of the brain, which controls our response to being startled.

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Additional Activities

Amygdala: Word Search Activity

This activity will help you assess your knowledge of the definition, function, and role of the amygdala.


For this activity, you'll need a printer to reproduce the following page. Search for and highlight the words that will complete each of the given clues. Afterward, neatly write them in the appropriate blank spaces.


  1. _____ is a strong, unpleasant emotion that arises from a perceived threat or harm, leading to psychological and behavioral changes in an individual.
  2. The amygdala is part of the control center of the nervous system called the _____.
  3. _____ is a primary sex hormone found in the testicles and is responsible for a man's sex drive.
  4. The almond-shaped cluster of nervous tissues, or amygdala, located deep within the _____ lobes of the brain.
  5. Heightened levels of _____ and anxiety are correlated to the size of the amygdala.
  6. _____ is a term that is generally used to describe sexual drive or desire for sexual activity.
  7. _____ in the amygdala have been identified to greatly reduce competitive drive, emotion, and fear.
  8. Panic attacks are known to be induced by an _____ amygdala.
  9. The amygdala plays a role in _____, being damaged by repeated episodes of intoxication and withdrawal.
  10. The limbic system is a set of structures in the brain that deal with _____ and memory.

Answer Key

  1. FEAR
  2. BRAIN

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