AMYGDALA [uh-MIG-duh-luh]: two almond-shaped groups of neurons located deep within the center of the brain


I know that my banner says that this blog will focus upon words used in common language.  And today is an exception.   I doubt very much if many of you (or any of you, for that part) use the word amygdala in regular conversations.   Unless, of course, you may happen to be a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Amygdala comes from the Greek language and means, literally, almond.  However, in current medical circles, it is the term which refers to two almond-shaped groups of neurons which are found within the median temporal lobes of the brain.   That means they are found at the center of the brain.  As one source points out, there are “almost Aboriginal sound and poetic associations with the Indian Sanskrit word mandala (meaning circle).”

It is here, in the amygdala, that we go to find the sources of emotion, passion, anger and memory.  When a person comes off a plane, walks down the airport ramp into the waiting area, and spots a family member waiting for (her) it is the amygdala that trigger the recognition, the tears, and the heightened sense of joy in spotting a loved one.  They are  also the source of sexual stimulation and pleasure at the taste of a favorite food.

They also the source of anger, fear and aggression, however.  It is the amygdala that stimulate my panic when I am confronted by a snake.   It is the amygdala that may trigger the anger that drives a person to commit mayhem.  David Ortiz of the Red Sox can blame his amygdala when the umpire calls a pitch a strike when he “knows” that it was low and outside and he explodes in the face of the ump.  It is that same phenomenon that triggers the umpire to eject him from the game.

We tend to take the function of the amygdala for granted…until they cease to function properly.  When the amygdala fail for one reason or another, a person’s emotional memory is lost or damaged.  As one source pointed out, a person may recognize a loved one but not have an emotional tie to them.   Or an act such as a murder may seem wrong, but not horrendous. Flawed amygdala may be the source of overeating or other addictions.

It is probably unnecessary to point out that psychiatric professionals working with a client are faced with a person who has more than a personality disorder.  They point out in all the resources I checked, that there is, perhaps, more unknown about the functioning of the amygdala than that which is known.   Would that it were the case that a simple stimulation of the almond-shaped clusters could correct or diminish violent behavior in a person.  Or that it would stimulate passion that has been lost.   The truth is that we just don’t know enough to be that precise.

But the very fact that the source of such emotion is known to inhabit the amygdala is a major step forward in treating persons with psychological issues believed to be related to this tiny inhabitant of the human brain.  Research continues….


Illustration Credit: capgras

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