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What is the Amygdala?

Michael Anissimov
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The amygdala, so named because it resembles an almond, is a set of nuclei in the brain located closely to each other and therefore grouped under the same name. Among the most prominent are the basolateral complex, the centromedial nucleus, and the cortical nucleus. The amygdala is part of the limbic system, responsible for regulating the emotions. It is most commonly associated with the emotions of fear and anxiety, and its size is positively correlated to the level of aggression in a given species. It is also associated with the emotion of pleasure, though mainly in a negative sense, i.e., the pleasure sometimes inherent in aggression.

There are two amygdalas, symmetrically arranged near the center of the brain, just above the hypothalamus. They are each about 1 inch (2.54 cm) in length. This structure has received much attention in recent decades, and has been the focus of many research projects.

The amygdala plays a key part in what has been called the "general-purpose defense response control network" and reacts in response to unpleasant sights, sensations, or smells. Anger, avoidance, and defensiveness are emotions activated largely by this part of the brain. Its evolutionary origins lie with the early fishes, and it has direct connections to one of the oldest sensory areas, the olfactory bulb. The amygdala is responsible for activating ancestral signs of distress such as "tense-mouth" and defensive postures such as crouching.

Like many parts of the limbic system, the functioning of the amygdala is not purely associated with any one emotion. Poor amygdalic functioning has been associated with anxiety, autism, depression, narcolepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and schizophrenia. Lesion studies with monkeys have shown that when this structure is impaired before six months of age, individuals have difficulty adapting to social life. This is because the amygdala is necessary not just for experiencing emotions like fear, but also for modeling and quickly recognizing the presence of these emotions in others. Thus a damaged one has become associated with the condition of autism, or social-blindness.

In humans, the amygdala is the brain structure that varies most widely between the sexes. When males are castrated, the size of it shrinks by 30%. Depression has been associated with asymmetrical amygdala sizes.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov , Writer
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated The Health Board contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.

Discussion Comments

By anon985728 — On Jan 18, 2015

My Mother introduced me to a psychopath and I continued reading your pages and found a portion about them not being responsible, such as doing my taxes in a timely manner. This crazy person I let in my life who refused to leave while we were married? I paid all of his federal and state tax for six years. I finally got rid of him through several letters written to his Mother to help me. I lost my home in my attempts to make him happy. He would be happy when until I lost myself completely I stopped even filing. The worst of this was my Mother, whom I took care of in my home for nine years, passed away.

When she passed, I no longer had my rock. She was gone and something very destructive was happening to me. I know or I think I know the combination of living with crazy and his bizarre behavior and then the biggest loss I have ever known caused me to collapse inside.

I cannot pay the IRS at this time because I am on disability permanently, yet the lien on my credit and my constant procrastination which has been present since her passing and his verbal/physical abuse took place. I am just not the same. Can you guide me help me to understand so I can correct this? I have lost so much respect for myself that I let this maniac in and it destroyed me. What can I do?

By anon139715 — On Jan 05, 2011

'Please help me understand' is more subtle than 'give me a definition that I can copy and post as my own work' isn't it.

No need to be scathing when an honest question is asked.

65163 you may have a point but supportive you ain't. I suspect that examen may be feeling a bit squashed and frustrated for no good reason.

By anon83576 — On May 11, 2010

You could give a simple definition.

By anon65163 — On Feb 11, 2010

To the poster above, examen: first obtain some education and training in medicine and psychology before you start looking at any connection between a brain structure and behavior. There is already too much rubbish being written by those that are not properly educated.

By examen — On Apr 27, 2008

Please help me understand the relationship between aggressiveness, psychopathic behavior and the amygdala. I am doing a research project based on the biography of a multiple homicide and need to find out how (if any) would a different amygdala look in such patients. I have received no training in medicine or psychology.

Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov

Writer

Michael Anissimov is a dedicated The Health Board contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
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