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.
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.
The amygdalae, however, can cause problems if they are overactive. Panic is often a result of increased activity of the amygdalae. Usually, the initial response of the amygdalae is brief, particularly if someone is startled, but the situation is not a real threat. Imagine your friend sneaking up behind you and yelling 'BOO!' You will be startled, but the response will be brief once you realize it is just a prank. But in the case of panic, the physiological changes that prepare for emergency situations do not turn off as quickly, which can lead to prolonged fear, regardless of an actual threat.
Effects of Damaged Amygdalae
Scientists have also noted that damage to the amygdalae may result in various psychological and behavioral changes. Lesions in the amygdalae have been linked to the loss of emotion, loss of fear, hypersexuality, and depression. Compulsive behaviors, such as binge drinking and alcoholism, may occur. In animals, such as monkeys, damage to the amygdalae may result in a loss of maternal and parenting instincts after birth.
The amygdalae are found in the temporal lobes of the brain, and are responsible for the perception of emotions, with fear being the most noticeable. They help to store memories of events for future recognition and protection. The primary response of the amygdala is to prepare for immediate action, but this response is usually short-lived. Prolonged amygdala activity can lead to panic and increased fear. Damage to this region may lead to many negative psychological and social behaviors, such as loss of emotion, increased sexual activity, and compulsive habits.
The Amygdala Overview
|Amygdala||responsible for the perception of emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, as well as the controlling of aggression|
|Temporal||front (side) lobe of the brain|
|Limbic system||is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory|
|Libido||sex drive is also controlled by the amygdala|
|Castration||removal of the testicles|
|Startle circuit||controls our response to being startled|
|Damage to amygdala||linked to the loss of emotion and fear, hypersexuality, and depression, as well as compulsive behaviors, such as binge drinking and alcoholism|
Display your understanding of the amygdala by doing the following:
- Indicate what and where the amygdala is
- Analyze its functions
- Recognize the correlation between fear and the amygdala
- Understand the implications of a damaged amygdala
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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.
- _____ is a strong, unpleasant emotion that arises from a perceived threat or harm, leading to psychological and behavioral changes in an individual.
- The amygdala is part of the control center of the nervous system called the _____.
- _____ is a primary sex hormone found in the testicles and is responsible for a man's sex drive.
- The almond-shaped cluster of nervous tissues, or amygdala, located deep within the _____ lobes of the brain.
- Heightened levels of _____ and anxiety are correlated to the size of the amygdala.
- _____ is a term that is generally used to describe sexual drive or desire for sexual activity.
- _____ in the amygdala have been identified to greatly reduce competitive drive, emotion, and fear.
- Panic attacks are known to be induced by an _____ amygdala.
- The amygdala plays a role in _____, being damaged by repeated episodes of intoxication and withdrawal.
- The limbic system is a set of structures in the brain that deal with _____ and memory.
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