Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Amygdala Hijack and Me :)

In the 3rd meeting of TLFHD Educational and Cultural Exchange Programme Ghana 2014, I shared my interest in medicine and how the body biological reactions are linked to our emotions with the presenter, Ms. Ann Marie and other participants of the programme. She then gave me an assignment to find out more about the amygdala hijack which would help me understand the link between our biological reactions and emotions.

The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe and adjacent to the hippocampus as shown below:
Figure 1 – The Amygdala, Temporal lobe and Hippocampus

It plays a primary role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. Stimuli from the eyes, ears, skin etc. sends a signal immediately to the thalamus and then the amygdala before a signal is sent to the neocortex. The neocortex consists of different parts of the brain, eg. The occipital lobe, that deals with logic & analysis, rational thought, control of emotions, language and morality. The amygdala assesses the signal by recognizing the emotions and feelings it evokes. It then inhibits the “slow thinking” rational brain, resulting in an unthinkable response that is based on emotions and feelings. This inhibition of the neocortex caused by the amygdala is called amygdala hijack and it is illustrated below:
Figure 2 – The Amygdala Hijack

The amygdala notes the emotion and feelings caused by the stimuli, and the unthinkable response that resulted from them. In the future, if similar emotion and feelings are evoked, the amygdala hijacks the rational brain, producing the noted unthinkable response.The amygdala hijack can result in positive and negative outcomes as it heavily influences the following:

·         Arousal
  positive - your spouse in a secluded, public area evokes a desirable feeling of pleasure in you. The amygdala quickly hijacks any reasoning from the rational brain about the area being inappropriate and may cause you to caress your spouse in a certain way/area which then results in the fulfillment of an exciting sexual adventure.

  negative - someone other than your spouse evokes the same desirable feeling and causes you to commit adultery, create an unwanted pregnancy etc.

·         Autonomic responses associated with fear
  positive - fear from seeing a ferocious dog running towards you may result in a amygdala hijack which increases your heart rate, blood pressure and causes you to 'freeze up' or remain stationary. The dog upon seeing your response does not attack you.

  negative - fear from seeing a vehicle speeding towards you causes you to 'freeze up' and may result in you being seriously injured.

·         Emotional responses
  positive - while in a meeting, someone sitting next to you gives you a good joke which evokes a feeling of joy and causes an amygdala hijack which blocks any reasoning about you being in the meeting, and you burst out in laughter. No one in the meeting was disturbed by your laughter and you happily enjoyed laughing at the joke.

  negative - your outburst in laughter was very disturbing and it caused you to be 'kicked-out' of the meeting and/or scold about it.
·         Hormonal secretions
  positive - being prepared for an exam evokes a feeling of confidence which causes an amygdala hijack that blocks any reasoning about exercising caution when answering questions. This may then result in the release of hormones which makes you feel happy and causes you to complete the exam very quickly.

  negative - not being prepared for the exam may cause a feeling of anxiety which may then lead to the release of stress hormones that causes you to stress about one question for a long period of time.
·         Memory
  positive - while driving you may encounter a situation that you had experienced in driving school. You may feel confident as you remember the experience, which then aids your memory in remembering how to respond to the situation in the best possible way.

  negative - you encounter a stressful situation that you never had experienced before. Being stressed and unsure of how to respond may hinder your memory in remembering possible methods of handling such situations.


Bailey, Regina. Biology. 2014. (accessed April 5, 2014).

Chipscholz. Scholz: Leadership Development. April 5, 2012. (accessed April 5, 2014).

Dr. Nadler, Relly. "What Was I Thinking?: Handling the Hijack." Psychology Today. July 2009. (accessed April 5, 2014).

Erich. The Art of Thinking as a Free Gift. August 26, 2012. (accessed April 5, 2014).

Waylon H. Lewis Enterprises. Elephant: Dedicated to Mindful Life. 2014. (accessed April 5, 2014).


  1. Excellent oral presentation Danielle, and just as informative here as well! Thanks for the information again...very interesting!

  2. I agree with Lennon.. u really explained it well, i was very interested!