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Amygdala - the master of emotions

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Bernice Clark |
AmygdalaOur emotions change constantly and along with them our attitude about ourselves changes, too.


"I'm on the top of the world," we think one day, the next day when something changes we think: "I'm not worth anything". For us to be capable to understand neurological processes which lead us to such different explanations of ourselves and of the reality we live in, we must bring to conscience one important part of our brain - amygdala.

All mammals have an amygdala in both left and right brain hemisphere. Amygdala has the key role in creating emotions. It is a kind of switch between the advanced functions of the frontal cortex and primitive parts of the brain. We can be deeply focused on something you do until the moment when something starts to treat our physical survival.

Our brain observes everything that happens to us in every moment of our life. It constantly checks does something looks like something that made us sad or angry in the past. When it sees the similarity, the amygdala activates "alarm" that announces danger which forces us to action. Then, in a blink of an eye, we look for a shelter; we start to be angry or to do something inappropriate even before we are able to think do we really want to do that.

Our "emotional" brain is not very smart. It only knows does something pleases us or hurts us, does something look safe or it is dangerous. We learned to recognize that models of behaviour in our early childhood. Our emotional brain leads us to pleasure and keeps us from pain. Every time it feels danger it sends our body in fight or escape. When that happens, our muscles stiff and as we start to prepare to fight or run the hormones of stress start to overflow our body.

We don't change just because things have sense to us (I must start a diet), but because of our feelings (I will look sensational when I loos weight). If the change we want to make looks terrible and hard to do, or we are not interested anymore to make the change, our emotional brain will start to work against it.

Our brain's first priority is to survive. Our body releases different chemical substances in our blood stream when we are happy, sad or frightened. For instance, when we are frightened the noradrenalin is released, a substance that is often referred to as "fight or flight" chemical. It is responsible for the body reaction to stressful situations.

When we see a treat our body excrete a lot of cortisol hormone. Cortisol is also "stress hormone", but it changes the higher mind processes to automatic functioning which helps us to survive. Since hormones affect our brain the changes of mood have a strong influence on the brain.

In other words, negative emotions decrease the capacity of brain to understand, to understand a meaning, to remember, or generally speaking, to do higher mind processes.

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