With the development of Neurosciences, we have more and more knowledge about the organ that manages everything: the brain . This centralizes all the activity of the central nervous system .
One of its most important parts, you may have heard of it, is the amygdala . The amygdala is located in the so-called deep brain and is the operations center that manages our emotions . Without it we would not be able to react to both external and internal stimuli .
Where is it and what is it in charge of?
The amygdala is an almond-shaped brain structure found on the inside of the brain. It is a subcortical structure that belongs to the limbic system . In fact its name comes from the Greek word that meant “almond”.
As with practically all brain structures, it is duplicated, finding an amygdala in each cerebral hemisphere at the level of the temporal lobes (approximately at the level of our ears).
Although different functions are attributed to it, the main one, which makes it a key element for survival, is its fundamental role to feel certain emotions and, also, to perceive them in other people.
It integrates emotions with the response patterns that correspond to them and, subsequently, elicits a response at all levels (physiological, cognitive and motor). In addition, it coordinates the areas that control the somatic expression of emotion and the cerebral cortex that makes emotion conscious. This means that, in addition to perception, it has great importance when it comes to giving meaning to what we feel.
It may seem simple but when we refer to an organ as complex as the brain, it is never like that. The amygdala is not simply a “piece” of the human brain, the way it works is predictable and well known. No brain structure is like that, and the amygdala was not going to be less.
These brain nuclei are related to multiple areas of the central nervous system and in fact, research has shown how it is made up of different neuronal groups (which is why it is also known as the tonsil complex ).
What are the main parts of the tonsil complex?
– Corticomedial nucleus: participates in hormonal control (especially in the control of sexual behavior) and in the satiation response .
– Basolateral nuclei : in addition to its involvement in the emotional responses already learned, its main function is related to the feeling of satiation .
– Central nucleus : the largest nucleus , it is essential for the expression of our emotions. It triggers the reaction of the autonomic nervous system and affects the genesis and maintenance of feelings.
Functions of tonsillar structures
As has been pointed out, the amygdala constitutes a highly complex and essential structure for our species, especially at the psychophysiological level . In summary form, the main functions are the following:
1. Integrates the emotions and the response of the autonomic nervous system
This is its most studied and probably most relevant function. The amygdala controls both the emission and the inhibition of any of our emotional responses . It allows associating the experience with a feeling of gratification or displeasure. Although it is very closely related to “negative” emotions (as we will see later), it also participates in emotions that are much more pleasant to us, such as joy .
2. Manage the fear response and the escape or avoidance reaction
In its participation in emotional processing, it has a key role in relation to emotions of a more adaptive nature. At the phylogenetic level, it is a structure that allows the survival of many species, including our own . It has been seen how in the presence of an injury these responses are altered, ranging from loss of fear to outbursts of aggressiveness.
3. It makes the learning of emotions possible
It allows us to select the appropriate strategies in specific situations due to the association established between the emotional response and the stimuli. This emotion-cognition link is closely related to motivation and memory .
4. Affects the structure of memories
It is a common experience to see how we recall past situations more easily when they are related to an emotion of great intensity. The connection between memories and emotions make this recovery more effective and also allow them to better focus on the structures in charge of memory .
Research has shown how, even when these structures fail (for example, the hippocampus) and certain memories cannot be stored, the amygdala can present an emotional memory of the situation .
5. Regulates sexual behavior and participates in the satiation response
As we have commented when mentioning some of the parts of the tonsil complex, these structures are directly involved in sexual responses and lack of hunger. As for the former, they allow emotional bonding and the association of that bond with pleasant sensations . As for the second, it contributes to maintaining body balance by influencing the perception of satiation.