“Bad News Sells Because The Amygdala Is Always Looking For Something To Fear.” – Peter Diamandis
The amygdalae are almond-like neuron networks located deep inside the brain within the limbic system. Certain areas like the lateral amygdala gets sensory inputs from sound, vision, taste, touch, and pain senses, while other areas like the medial nucleus get signals from the olfactory system (smell) and activate control responses.
After determining the emotional importance of the signals received, the amygdala’s central nucleus transmits actions to the brainstem which often leads to startling avoidance behavior.
It also transmits impulses to the hypothalamus thereby causing activation of the sympathetic nervous system and increasing heart rate and blood pressure. It also triggers the release of hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and serotonin which in turn increases or diminishes the level of interaction between vital systems. Subsequently this raises the intensity of the flight or fight responses and the connection between amygdala and anxiety strengthens.
Additionally, signals transmitted to the nerves in the face trigger different emotions and expressions like fear, anger, contempt, etc. All of this occurs within milliseconds and the cycle of amygdala and anxiety can arise.
The amygdala is designed to generate sudden and immediate reactions to different events. It is however classified to be a constituent of the brain’s basal ganglia which regulates conscious management of thoughts and actions. The basal ganglia thus overpowers the sudden reactions provoked by the amygdala and prevents the onset of unnecessary responses to varied events.
The amygdala was responsible for primitive fear and anger in ancient animals. Later, with the advent of living in herds, there was the emergence of more subtle forms of social behaviours and emotions. The limbic system organs called the insulae generate the subtle emotions. It is associated with emotional responses to different sensations and feelings like burning or sharp pain, itching, warm or cool conditions, movements of muscle or joints, tickling, thirst, mechanical trauma/stress, hunger, and flushing.
Different kinds of emotional messages are triggered by the insulae and each of such signals come with disagreeable or agreeable bodily sensations, such as feelings of pain associated with guilt or feelings of warmth associated with love.
The same feeling or emotion can have one or more pathways. For example, pain associated with a needle prick only refers to a physical sensation which follows one path. Pain associated with rejection or guilt is another sensation and follows another path, resulting in a more unpleasant feeling or bodily sensation. These negative feelings pass on from the insulae to the amygdala, which then stores memories of such feelings of pain linked to different social interactions and environments.
The subsequent response triggered by the amygdala may become visible in the form of feelings like disgust, hate, shame, envy, guilt, jealousy, despair, and sadness, etc.
Such conditioning of emotions and feelings by the amygdala may trigger the development of different psychological conditions, including anxiety disorders, phobias, panic attacks, and obsessions, etc. In order to avoid the development of such disorders or to treat such underlying disorders, one needs to train the amygdala to generate the correct responses for different kinds of events which can be done through a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program.