The amygdala deals with our emotions, helps process our memories, and gets totally absorbed in managing our response to fear and stress. Combined, these are biggies, so the hippocampus and hypothalamus chime in with some assistance.
We all have, built-in from birth, this automatic response system that triggers a fight or flight reaction based upon an event. The amygdala’s job is to determine how to respond to a “wow” type of event, be it an emergency or something that simply startles you, or indeed any type of event that produces an emotional response. In so responding the amygdala causes the release of neurohormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
You can read more about The Autonomic Nervous System at Neuroscience for Kids. Jim Phelps, on his PsychEducation.org site, provides an explanation of fear and the amygdala from a psychological perspective, and includes several detailed diagrams and images. Lastly, especially if you are a visual learner, see what the Amygdala is up to in this animated opening page for Joseph LeDoux’s Laboratory site, sponsored by the Center for Neural Science at New York University.
In addition to interpreting incoming sensory information, the amygdala is involved with processing memory, particularly memories with emotional impact. Given how intense emotions can be, perhaps you can understand why memories tagged with emotions would be among the strongest memories we have. However, if you get stressed over something, the stress response may actually make it more difficult for you to recall a specific memory by inhibiting your ability to think clearly. The interplay between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex is such that the amygdala may respond before the thinking part of your brain has an opportunity to compose a response. The result can range from a lifesaving solution to a red-faced embarrassment!
Garr Reynolds writes about presentations in his Presentation Zen blog, and in a recent post he wrote about Dan Pink’s presentations. It has relevancy here as Dan Pink is perhaps best known for his book, A Whole New Mind, which discusses the need for beefing up the emotional side of human functioning in order to be an engaged participant in the 21st century. Surely it can’t hurt to read the book and give your amygdala some pointers!