Why is the Amygdala Important?
Despite its small size, the amygdala plays an important role in many basic functions. The amygdala may also play a role in social skills because of its role in learning, memory, and emotion. A few studies have shown that people with larger amygdalae tended to have larger and more active social circles. Some other studies have implicated the amygdala in aggressive behavior, alcoholism, binge drinking, and sexual orientation.
What is the Amygdala Hijack
In his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” psychologist Daniel Goleman named this emotional overreaction to stress “amygdala hijack.” The amygdala hijack occurs when your amygdala responds to stress and disables your frontal lobes. That activates the fight-or-flight response and disables rational, reasoned responses. In other words, the amygdala “hijacks” control of your brain and your responses.
The symptoms of an amygdala hijack are caused by the body’s chemical response to stress. When you experience stress, your brain releases two kinds of stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. Both of these hormones, which are released by the adrenal glands, prepare your body to fight or to flee.
Together, these stress hormones do a number of things to your body in response to stress. They:
- increase blood flow to muscles, so you have more strength and speed to fight or flee
- expand your airways so you can take in and use more oxygen
- increase blood sugar to provide you immediate energy
- dilate pupils to improve your vision for faster responses
When these hormones are released, you may experience:
- rapid heartbeat
- sweaty palms
- clammy skin
- goosebumps on the surface of your skin
An amygdala hijack may lead to inappropriate or irrational behavior. After an amygdala hijack, you may experience other symptoms like embarrassment and regret. [Read more…]