Function and Location of the Amygdala - Simply Psychology (2023)

VonOlivia Guy-Evans, published on May 09, 2021

VonSaul Mcleod, PhD

The central theses
  • the tonsil inlimbic systemit plays a key role in how animals assess and respond to environmental threats and challenges, assessing the emotional significance of sensory information and triggering an appropriate response.
  • The main job of the amygdala is to regulate emotions like fear and aggression.
  • The amygdala is also involved in assigning emotional meaning to our memories, reward processing, and decision making.
  • When electrically stimulated, animals display aggressive behavior and when it is removed, they stop displaying aggressive behavior.

Function and Location of the Amygdala - Simply Psychology (1)

The amygdala is a complex structure of cells embedded in the center of the brain, adjacent to theHippocampus(which is related to memory formation).

The amygdala is primarily involved in processing emotions and memories associated with fear. The amygdala is considered part of the limbic system in the brain and is key to processing strong emotions such as fear or joy.

Because the amygdala has connections to many other brain structures, this means it can connect to areas for processing "higher" cognitive information with systems that control "lower" functions (such as autonomic responses like breathing, touch, and sensation).

This allows the amygdala to organize physiological responses based on available cognitive information. The best known example of this is thefight or flight response.

There are two tonsils in each hemisphere of the brain and there are three known functionally distinct parts:

  1. The medial (middle) group of subnuclei, which has many connections to the olfactory bulb and cortex (related to olfactory functions or the sense of smell).
  2. The basolateral group (basolateral means below and to the side), which has a number of connections to thecerebral cortex, specifically the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobes.
  3. The central and anterior (front) group of nuclei, which have many connections to the brain stem, hypothalamus, and sensory structures.

Tonsil abduction

The amygdala can be stimulated when faced with a perceived threat. In a threatening situation, the amygdala sends information to other parts of the brain to prepare the body to deal with or escape from the situation.

This fight or flight response is triggered by feelings of fear,distress, aggression and anger. It is beneficial for the amygdala to function properly in order to act appropriately in threatening or stressful situations.

However, sometimes the amygdala can act too forcefully, leading toamygdala hijacking. Typically, in a stressful situation, the frontal lobes step in to override the amygdala and ensure we respond rationally.

However, when the stressful situation creates strong feelings of fear, anger, aggression, or anxiety, this can lead to illogical and irrational hyperreactive behaviors.

Essentially, the amygdala overrides the frontal lobes to take control of the stress response.

functions of the amygdala

The lesson of emotion

The amygdala plays a special role in mediating many aspects of emotional learning, as well as emotional behavior. One emotion for which the amygdala is particularly responsible is the control of fear.

To usepavlovian conditioningit can produce something called fear conditioning. This is the case when a neutral stimulus is combined with an inherently aversive unconditional stimulus.

For example, making a loud clicking noise (aversive stimulus) when a person is shown a picture of a stranger's face (neutral stimulus).

After repeated pairing of these two stimuli, neurons in the amygdala become conditioned to the change in stimuli, reflecting a conditioned fear response.

Therefore, we can expect the person in the example to be afraid of the stranger in the picture because they are conditioned to be afraid.

The literature supports the view that the amygdala has an impact on cognitive processes, such as memory formation, decision making, attention, and social behavior.

This is thought to be due to the amygdala, which projects information to the prefrontal and sensory cortex and hippocampus. Thus, the amygdala can assign emotions to these cognitive processes.

For example, we may make a decision based on our own personal emotions, or we may pay more attention to something that we believe will cause us to feel positive emotions as a result.

memory formation

One area where the amygdala is most prominent is in the formation of memories, particularly emotional ones.

Because the amygdala is remarkably close and forms connections with the hippocampus (a memory structure in the brain), the two often work together to make memories more memorable.

The amygdala can associate memories with memories. The more emotional the memory, the more likely it is to be remembered.

For example, the birth of a child is often a very emotional and positive memory because it is likely to be remembered. Some emotional memories can be permanent, while memories that are mundane and have little or no emotional connection are often forgotten.

The amygdala acts as a storehouse for good and bad memories, but above all for emotional trauma. In this case, the amygdala can be harmful since these traumas are especially difficult to overcome as it is a very emotional memory.

People who have experienced emotional trauma may also find that their trauma can affect other cognitive functions as a result, since the amygdala is connected to many other regions of the brain.

Emotional memories are believed to be stored in the synapses of neurons in the brain.

There is evidence that several neuromodulators in the amygdala regulate the formation of emotional memories (Tang, Kochubey, Klintscher & Schneggenburger, 2020). Fear memories are believed to be embedded in neural connections in the amygdala.


The amygdala is the most important part of the limbic system for many emotions, including aggression.

Amygdala reactivity is a good predictor of aggression. Groves and Schlesinger (1982) found that surgical removal of the amygdala reduced aggression in previously violent individuals.

In animal studies, stimulation of the amygdala leads to aggressive behavior. Removal of the amygdala in monkeys, rats, and humans reduces aggression.


ManyNeuroimagingStudies have examined the structural and functional connectivity of the amygdala.

social behavior

Regarding social behavior, it has been shown that the basolateral part of the amygdala, which sends signals to the hippocampus, is capable of modulating social behavior in a bidirectional way (Ada, Felix-Ortiz, & Tye, 2014).

Amygdala volume has also been shown to be positively correlated with the number of social contacts and the number of social groups a person belongs to (Bickart, Wright, Dautoff, Dickerson, & Barrett, 2011).

Basically, the more friends and circles of friends someone has, the bigger their amygdala.

sexual orientation

It has been suggested that sexual orientation is related to structural differences in the amygdala. Homosexual men tend to show similar patterns in their amygdala as heterosexual women.

These two groups tend to have more extensive connections in their left amygdala.

Likewise, homosexual women tend to show similar patterns to heterosexual men and have more extensive right amygdala connections (Swaab, 2007).

To emphasize

Studies suggest that acute stressors and chronic stress are strongly associated with neural activity within the amygdala (Correll, Rosenkranz & Grace, 2005).

Similarly, synaptic plasticity (the ability of synapses to become stronger or weaker over time) within the amygdala is affected by stress (Vouimba, Yaniv, Diamond, & Richter-Lerin, 2004).

mental health disorders

A variety of research has shown that the amygdala, particularly on the left side, is associated with mental illness such as mental anxiety, TOC (obsessive compulsive disorder),generalized anxiety disorderand post-traumatic stress disorder (Arehart-Treichel, 2014).

People with a severe case of social phobia show significant correlations with increased amygdala response (Phan, Fitzgerald, Nathan & Tancer, 2006).

Also, those who have more pathways from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex are more likely to experience nervousness and anxiety, as these pathways allow the frontal cortex to be flooded with more threat warnings from the amygdala.

People diagnosed with depression have been shown to have excessive hyperactivity in the left amygdala, particularly when interpreting facial emotions, primarily fearful faces (Sheline et al., 2001).

Similar results were discovered in another study involving people with PTSD. When shown images of faces with fearful expressions, their amygdala tended to show high activation (Carlson, 2012).

However, in bipolar disorder, one study found that these individuals had significantly smaller amygdala volumes than individuals without bipolar disorder (Blumberg, Kaufman, & Martin, 2005).


Regarding addiction, the basolateral amygdala has shown involvement in people who relapse in relation to drugs.

In particular, the amygdala integrates the effects of stress into drug-related memory (Wang et al., 2008). The amygdala has also been shown to influence Internet addiction.

It was found that the functional connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex was altered in individuals with Internet addiction, thus it was concluded that this type of addiction may be associated with emotional disorders and emotion processing (Cheng & Liu, 2020).

tonsil damage

If there is damage or differences in the structure and function of the amygdala, one or more of the following symptoms may occur:

  • Difficulty forming memories, particularly those that would be emotional memories, since the amygdala and hippocampus are interconnected.
  • Hyperactive fear responsehypervigilance, which leads to many situations being interpreted as a threat and a loss of control over bodily reactions.
  • Emotional sensitivity.
  • Anxiety associated with amygdala overactivity or little or no anxiety associated with amygdala underactivity.
  • Too aggressive in hyperactivity of the amygdala.
  • Overstimulation in hyperactivity of the amygdala.
  • Deficits in recognizing emotions (especially fear) when the amygdala is damaged or underactive.

A famous case study of someone who had amygdala damage in both hemispheres is patient SM. SM had no apparent motor, sensory, or cognitive deficits and was able to identify a variety of facial expressions.

However, the only facial expressions he couldn't identify were faces showing fear. He could also draw pictures of any facial expression, but he could not draw a scary expression and claimed that he did not know what a scary face would look like.

When the amygdala is damaged or not fully functional, it can interfere with the acquisition and expression of fear learning. As a result, they may not learn in the Pavlovian form of classical conditioning.

This suggests that they are less vulnerable.forms phobiasand less likely an anxious person, but they may not be naturally risk averse and therefore this may affect their ability to make safe decisions.

Deficits in the amygdala can lead to anxiety disorders, addictions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias.

However, there is no direct way to treat a damaged tonsil.psychotherapyand medications can help with some of the symptoms associated with mental illnesses experienced.

Deep brain stimulation has also shown promising results in relieving some of the psychological and behavioral side effects, such as hypervigilance.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans received her BA in Educational Psychology from Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her MA in Educational Psychology from the University of Bristol in 2019 Bristol for the past four years.

To reference this article:

To reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2021, May 9).Function and location of the tonsil. Just psychology.

APA style references

Arehart-Treichel, J. (2014). Changes in children's amygdala after anxiety treatment.

Bickart, K.C., Wright, CI., Dautoff, R.J., Dickerson, B.C., & Barrett, L.F. (2011). Amygdala volume and social network size in humans.natural neuroscience, 14(2), 163-164.

Blumberg, H., Kaufmann, J. & Martin, A. (2005). Amygdala and hippocampal volumes in adolescents and adults with bipolar disorder.Yearbook of Applied Psychiatry and Mental Health, 2005, 31-32.

Carlson, N.R. (2012). behavioral physiology. Pearson Higher Education.

Cheng H and Liu J (2020). Alterations in amygdala connectivity in Internet addiction disorder. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-10.

Correll, CM, Rosencrantz, JA, & Grace, AA (2005). Chronic cold stress alters prefrontal cortical modulation of amygdala neuronal activity in rats.Biological Psychiatry, 58(5), 382-391.

Felix-Ortiz, A.C., & Tye, KM (2014). Amygdala inputs to the ventral hippocampus bidirectionally modulate social behavior.Neuroscience Journal, 34(2), 586-595.

Phan, KL, Fitzgerald, DA, Nathan, PJ, & Dancer, ME (2006). Association between amygdala hyperactivity towards hard faces and severity of social anxiety in generalized social phobia.Biological Psychiatry, 59(5), 424-429.

Salzman, C. Daniel (2019, February 27).Amygdala. Britannica Encyclopedia.

Sheline, Y.I., Barch, D.M., Donnelly, J.M., Ollinger, J.M., Snyder, AZ, and Mintun, MA. (2001). Increased amygdala response to masked emotional faces in depressed subjects resolves with antidepressant treatment: an fMRI study.Biological Psychiatry, 50(9), 651-658.

Swaab, D.F. (2008). Sexual orientation and its basis in the structure and function of the brain.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(30), 10273–10274.

Tang W, Kochubey O, Kintscher M, and Schneggenburger R (2020). A VTA projection to basal amygdala dopamine helps pinpoint salient somatosensory events during fear learning.Neuroscience Journal, 40(20), 3969-3980.

Vouimba, R.M., Yaniv, D., Diamond, D. & Richter-Levin, G. (2004). Effects of unavoidable stress on LTP in the amygdala compared with the dentate gyrus of free-living rats.European Journal of Neuroscience, 19(7), 1887-1894.

Wang XY, Zhao M, Ghitza EU, Li YQ, and Lu L (2008). Stress affects drug memory reconsolidation via glucocorticoid receptors in the basolateral amygdala.Neuroscience Journal, 28(21), 5602-5610.

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What is the function of amygdala in psychology? ›

The amygdala is commonly thought to form the core of a neural system for processing fearful and threatening stimuli (4), including detection of threat and activation of appropriate fear-related behaviors in response to threatening or dangerous stimuli.

What is the amygdala simple explanation? ›

Amygdala is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. If the brain is turned upside down the end of the structure continuous with the hippocampus is called the uncus. If you peel away uncus you will expose the amygdala which abuts the anterior of the hippocampus.

Where is the amygdala is located quizlet? ›

Where is the Amygdala located? Located close to the hippocampus, in the frontal portion of the temporal lobe. What are the functions of the Amygdala?

What is the function of the amygdala quizlet? ›

What is the role of the amygdala? emotional regulation, Emotion and social behavior, emotions and perception, and emotions and memory.

What is the amygdala structure and function? ›

The amygdala is the part of the brain primarily involved in emotion, memory, and the fight-or-flight response. It is one of two almond-shaped cell clusters located near the base of the brain. Together, the amygdalae (plural), also known as the amygdaloid complex, is an important part of the limbic system.

What is amygdala in psychology example? ›

The amygdala helps to store memories of events and emotions so that an individual may be able to recognize similar events in the future. For example, if you have ever suffered a dog bite, then the amygdalae may help in processing that event and, therefore, increase your fear or alertness around dogs.

What is the function of the amygdala How do we activate? ›

The amygdala activates this fight-or-flight response without any initiative from you. When that part of your brain senses danger, it signals your brain to pump stress hormones, preparing your body to either fight for survival or to flee to safety.

What is the amygdala in psychology quizlet? ›

Amygdala. A limbic system structure involved in memory and emotion, particularly fear and agression (Limbic System)

What is the amygdala quizlet? ›

amygdala. two lima bean sized neural clusters that are components of the limbic system and are linked to emotion. cerrebellum. the "little brain" attatched to the rear of the brainstem; its functions include processing sensory input and coordinating movement output and balance. corpus callosum.

Where is the amygdala function? ›

The amygdalae, a pair of small almond-shaped regions deep in the brain, help regulate emotion and encode memories—especially when it comes to more emotional remembrances.

Is the amygdala located in the cerebrum? ›

The amygdala (/əˈmɪɡdələ/; plural: amygdalae /əˈmɪɡdəli, -laɪ/ or amygdalas; also corpus amygdaloideum; Latin from Greek, ἀμυγδαλή, amygdalē, 'almond', 'tonsil') is one of two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain's cerebrum in complex vertebrates, including ...

Where is the amygdala located left or right? ›

The amygdala is located in both hemispheres of the brain and is involved in a range of cognitive processes.

What is the role of the amygdala in memory? ›

The amygdala has long been known to play a key role in supporting memory for emotionally arousing experiences. For example, classical fear conditioning depends on neural plasticity within this anterior medial temporal lobe region.

How does the amygdala regulate emotion? ›

The amygdala contributes to these fear circuits in two ways: directly, by detecting the threat on an unconscious level and regulating behavioral and physiological responses, and indirectly, through cognitive systems, in the emergence of a conscious feeling of fear.

What is the role of the amygdala in fear and anxiety? ›

The amygdala has a central role in anxiety responses to stressful and arousing situations. Pharmacological and lesion studies of the basolateral, central, and medial subdivisions of the amygdala have shown that their activation induces anxiogenic effects, while their inactivation produces anxiolytic effects.

What is the amygdala AP Psychology? ›

Amygdala: The amygdala is the center of emotion and motivations. The amygdala is responsible for fear responses and learning out of fearful situations. The amygdala is also involved in regulation of memory consolidation or the process of turning a memory into long-term memory.

Is the amygdala located in the prefrontal cortex? ›

Amygdala vs Prefrontal Cortex
AmygdalaPrefrontal Cortex
The amygdala detects stress in the environment.The prefrontal cortex regulates our reaction to the stress in the environment.
It is located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain.It is located in the frontal lobe of the brain.
6 more rows

What is the function of right and left amygdala? ›

(2004) provide evidence for functional lateralization of the amygdalae, with results suggesting the left amygdala is more associated with verbal and sustained emotional processing whereas the right amygdala is more associated with visual and dynamic emotional analysis.

Does the amygdala control all emotions? ›

The amygdala is responsible for processing strong emotions, such as fear, pleasure, or anger. It might also send signals to the cerebral cortex, which controls conscious thought. Signals sent from the thalamus to the autonomic nervous system and skeletal muscles control physical reactions.

What are three functions of the amygdala? ›

The main job of the amygdala is to regulate emotions, such as fear and aggression. The amygdala is also involved in tying emotional meaning to our memories. reward processing, and decision-making.

What role does the amygdala play in anxiety? ›

The amygdala is responsible for the expression of fear and aggression as well as species-specific defensive behavior, and it plays a role in the formation and retrieval of emotional and fear-related memories. (Fig. 2 depicts the amygdala's involvement in fear circuitry).


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