The Amygdala, life’s almond shaped base of irrationality, poor choices, and primitive emotions. Where would we be without it? Well… Probably no where, as in extinct nowhere.
Having an evolved amygdala meant that our species knew how to keep itself safe and healthy, a crucial component of staying alive. “Knew” may be the wrong term, this part of our brain isn’t big on informing us of what to do next, it does it for us. And this is great because the second between being aware of a lion, your brain telling you to run, and you reacting is plenty of time to for you to become human du jour.
So, this bit of brain, opposable thumbs, and a protein diet helped make humans what we are today. Great! So why beat up on the amygdala in the introduction?
Well, it’s been a couple thousand years since our brain received an update. Not the worst of all situations, we’re still the dominant species by a landslide, but it does mean we run into a couple glitches from time to time.
If you’ve ever overreacted to an insult or chosen to do something wrong, fully knowing the consequences, you’re more than welcome to blame your amygdala. It’s the cognitive filter for emotions like fear, sadness, and anger, it triggers aggression, and drives desire. We also know that the amygdala is part the reason intelligent people do really stupid things.
In stark contrast to the amygdala is our prefrontal cortex (PFC), the portion of the brain involved in logical thought problem solving, and decision making. It’s the most advanced portion of our brain. Unfortunately as the amygdala starts to react the PFC becomes less active, making it difficult to control our responses.
We can thank the amygdala for bringing plenty of zest into our lives, firing us up at the right moments, and keeping us safe when it truly does count. It’s only in those moments of stress where we need to remember we’re working with outdated software and it’s best to check ourselves, rather than fly off the handle.
Further Reading: The Amygdala is Not the Fear Center