Next stop: First floor of your brain-amygdala & emotions

The amygdala triggers your emotions faster than your conscious awareness. The unique “speed dial circuits” of the two almond sized nuclei within your brain are the first to react to emotionally significant events. These organs protect you from harm by interpreting subconscious hints of danger to trigger lightning fast responses.
The amazing pattern recognition competence of these organs provides clear evidence of the theme of this website that the mind does not compute, but senses patterns. These organs detect and respond to subliminal signals of danger, or of obstructions to one’s goals. In coordination with the insulae, they also respond with alacrity to negative emotions like grief, guilt, envy, or shame.

Also, the amygdala is a bundled network of neurons, about one inch in length, in the limbic system, deep within the brain. Specific regions within it receive sensory inputs and other regions trigger control responses. The lateral amygdala receives inputs from sight, sound, touch, taste and pain systems. The medial nucleus receives inputs from the olfactory system.

Deciding on the emotional significance of received sensory inputs, the central nucleus of the organ sends impulses to the brainstem, triggering (typically jumpy) avoidance behavior. Impulses sent by it to the hypothalamus activate the sympathetic nervous system, raising blood pressure and heart beats. Impulses sent to the facial nerves generate varied expressions, including anger, fear and disgust. Norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine released from the amygdalae raise or lower the interactivity of critical networks, heightening the intensity of fight, flight or freeze responses.

While it is geared to cause you sudden tension, the amygdalae are anatomically considered to be a part of the basal ganglia (BG), a gray bundle of neurons, which enable you to consciously control your actions and thoughts. The dominance of BG grants you the power to still the knee jerk reactions of the amygdalae.

In primeval animals, it was the amygdalae, which initiated primitive anger and fear. Later, with the arrival of herd living, more subtle social emotions emerged. The insulae, organs in the limbic system, triggered these emotions.

The insulae linked such emotions to the experiences of sensations, including sharp pain, burning pain, cool or warm temperature, itching, muscle contraction, muscle burn because of lactic acid, joint movements, soft touch, mechanical stress, tickling, flushing, hunger and thirst.

The insulae trigger varied emotion signals, each specifically accompanied by pleasant, or unpleasant bodily sensations – the warmth of love, or the pain of guilt. It was Antonio Damasio, who suggested that it was the insulae, which link bodily sensations to emotions. Eisenberger’s research at UCLA reports a typical link of emotions to sensations. Neural pain circuits were found to be activated, when a person suffers social rejection.

The pain of rejection defers from the pain of a pinprick. Pain is known to have two pathways. One carries the pain sensation. Signals in the other carry a feeling of “hurt,” which is reported to be more disagreeable. Such negative sensation signals from the insulae reach the amygdalae. The organ registers memories of the painful sensations related to social emotions. They react to the felt feelings of hate, disgust, shame, guilt, envy, jealousy, sadness and despair.

The amygdalae have been noted to assist in the memory formation of emotional events. In experiments on caged rats, the animals receive painful footshocks, accompanied by specific sounds. Later, the sounds alone are observed to induce stresses in the animal. The sound signals were noted to generate stronger responses in the input synapses of the amygdalae. The neural junctions receiving the signals increased intracellular calcium, leading to protein synthesis. The sound to pain relationship was retained in memory as long-term potentiation (LTP), a persisting potential, causing the amygdalae to react more readily to signs of danger.

A rat in a cage cannot avoid getting a footshock. When it senses signals, which imply the potential for pain, the amygdala triggers freeze or flight behavior. Fear tends to paralyze. Every vista appears dangerous and threatening. You can only do one of three things, when you face a threat. Do something about it, avoid it, or live with it. Creative management requires alertness, not fear. Pangs of fear can be stilled through self awareness and a few mind control practices. When fear is stilled, the awareness of danger will still be present. But the ability to take calculated risks and make a project successful will come to the forefront. Common sense appears, when fear is stilled.

In the other hand, grief is a social emotion, which triggers pain. When life deals you a severe blow, it is but natural to feel sadness and to dwell on the images of “what might have been.” All such images trigger evasive action by the amygdala, which desperately seeks an impossible escape from the sense of loss. A reasonable period of grief is needed for a person to come to terms with traumatic changes in life. Awareness can still the constant tendency to dwell on thoughts of escape from the inevitable. It is necessary to gradually forget the past and to plan for a new future. As grief subsides, common sense will take over, motivating the mind to get on with life.



Co-Founder/ Co- CEO

IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute


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