Well, now that we have our anatomy and physiology reference information available in the first post of the series, let’s dive in to the pool of fear memory. Learning what causes the amygdala to sound the alarm is the best place to start.
According to legendary New York University neuroscientist, Joseph E. LeDoux, Ph.D., the amygdala orchestrates the response when the wolf’s at the door. The amygdala receives what LeDoux refers to as “quick and dirty” information from the thalamus via the “low road.” This is an unconscious and innate express lane that’s been engineered to allow the amygdala to react in milliseconds in the face of a threat.
As soon as this data hits the amygdala, it sounds the alarms and on comes the action of the HPA axis. Suddenly our fight/flight response is rockin’ and rollin’. And just in case the work of the HPA axis is insufficient, the amygdala has neural connections that patch right into the brainstem, ensuring the appropriate cardiac and respiratory survival responses occur.
Now, the amygdala also receives input from what LeDoux refers to as the “high road.” And the primary source of this information is the brain’s visual cortex. Being conscious and rational, this data is much more accurate; and has the clout to give the amygdala sufficient reason to turn off the alarms.
However, there’s a huge problem. This input took the side streets to the amygdala, making it late for the party. That means the errant unconscious and innate messages that took the express lane are already sipping punch. And the music’s blaring.
So, the whole issue here is travel time.
Absolutely, this is a wonderfully conceived and engineered security system; however, you can see how it can present huge problems for those genetically predisposed to anxiety.
News flash. The amygdala, for sure, knows how to be afraid. Be sure to check-in tomorrow and we’ll talk about it.
More good stuff, for sure.