The amyg­dala: hooks, al­monds, and ter­ror

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

What is it? A com­pli­cated group of nerves sit­u­ated in the side of the brain, in­volved in the pro­cess­ing and me­mory of emo­tional re­ac­tions. It’s about 2.5cm long and in a part called the tem­po­ral lobe, un­der­neath a bulge in the brain called the un­cus, which means hook. There is one on each side, so we have two amyg­dalae. How did it get its name? It’s said to be al­mond-shaped, and amyg­dala is the Greek word for al­mond. How might it make us ter­ri­fied? It’s thought that the amyg­dala is in­volved with learn­ing what sit­u­a­tions are ter­ri­fy­ing, and then re­mem­ber­ing them, and ac­ti­vat­ing the body to re­spond to that fear. For ex­am­ple, the amyg­dala plays a role in gen­er­at­ing the fa­cial ex­pres­sions of fear and other fear re­sponses, such as in­creased heart­beat. Ex­per­i­ments on an­i­mals with dam­aged amyg­dalae found they lose their nor­mal cau­tion when con­fronted with a scary sit­u­a­tion.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Nathalie Gar­cia

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