Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jordan. Jordan Wonders, “What does your amygdala do for you” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jordan!
Have you ever been blindsided by emotion? You're walking along, minding your own business, when you hear a brief snippet of a song from long ago. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you feel like crying.
It's like someone flipped a switch inside your brain to make you sad. Perhaps it's because the song reminds you of someone you haven't seen in a while. Isn't it crazy how our emotions can change so quickly at times?
While there's nothing that looks like a light switch inside your brain controlling your emotions, there is a special part of the brain that experts believe plays a critical role in how human beings experience, process, and recognize emotions. Scientists call it the amygdala.
The amygdala consists of a group of neurons and is shaped like an almond. In fact, the name "amygdala" comes from the Greek word for "almond."
You actually have two amygdalae (that means more than one amygdala!) deep in your brain. They can be found close to the hippocampus in the frontal portion of the brain's temporal lobe. The amygdalae are considered to be part of the body's limbic system.
Scientists have learned that your amygdala plays a key role in processing emotions, such as fear, pleasure, and anger. In addition to helping you feel particular emotions, it also helps you to perceive emotions in others, especially those related to survival.
Along with emotions, the amygdala determines which memories get stored in the brain. Experts think that the type of emotional response an event causes affects which memories get saved.
Although the amygdala controls the processing of a variety of emotions, it's often most-closely associated with fear. Scientists have learned that the amygdala controls the body's autonomic responses associated with fear.
In fact, scientists have studied people who have had their amygdalae destroyed as a result of trauma, such as a stroke. These people could recognize facial expressions associated with nearly every emotion except for fear.
Unfortunately, sometimes the amygdala doesn't always work like it should. Scientists who study the brain think that certain conditions, such as anxiety, depression, phobias, autism, and post-traumatic stress disorder, may be linked to abnormal functioning of the amygdala.