Imagine it’s Halloween. You and your friends have just finished up your trick or treating, and you just made it back home to snack on some goodies. Suddenly, your uncle, wearing a scary mask, jumps out from behind the door. Instinctively, you feel a jolt of fear and scream, until you figure out that is just your uncle and laugh it off. You soon forget about the scare and go back to your candy. Many years later however, you can remember that Halloween pretty distinctly, especially how you felt after your uncle’s spooky antics. While your fearful response to your uncle, your memory of the scare, and your desire to eat candy seem unrelated, they can all actually be traced back to one tiny but powerful brain structure: the amygdala.
The amygdala is a part of the brain which is responsible for multiple functions including perceiving threats, finding rewards, and encoding emotional memories. It is popularly known as the brain’s “flight or flight” trigger, which leads to us acting aggressively or fearfully in response to threats. However, the amygdala is deeply interconnected with other systems within the brain which causes it to act as a key middleman in multiple emotional brain processes, such as stress-response, motivation, and decision-making.