Amygdala hijack

From 7½ Lessons
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A note for Lesson no. 1, "You Have One Brain (Not Three)," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 28 is:

But feeling distressed is not evidence...that your so-called emotional brain has hijacked your supposed rational brain.

Have you ever heard the phrase "amygdala hijack" to describe an experience when your emotions seem to overwhelm you? This idea is a manifestation of the triune brain myth.

An amygdala is a group of nuclei found deep in the brain's temporal lobe. Your brain has two temporal lobes (right and left) and so you have two amygdalae. Your amygdalae are said to be part of the brain's mythical limbic system. Scientists initially proposed that amygdala neurons were necessary to create fear and specific to processing fear.[1] Then, it was proposed that the amygdala is necessary for and specific to creating negative emotions or emotion in general. Decades of scientific evidence, however, including work from my own lab,[2] indicates that these hypotheses are incorrect.[3][4] The neurons in regions like the amygdala are often important when the brain is creating instances of emotion, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient for emotion.[5]

In the moments that people call "amygdala hijack," you may feel as if your emotional brain has overwhelmed your logical brain... but you have only one brain. No matter how intuitive the "amygdala hijack" explanation seems, it is false.

See also


  1. Klüver, Heinrich, and Paul C. Bucy. 1939. “Preliminary Analysis of Functions of the Temporal Lobes in Monkeys.” Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 42: 979–1000.
  2. Lindquist, Kristen A., Tor D. Wager, Hedy Kober, Eliza Bliss-Moreau, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2012. "The Brain Basis of Emotion: A Meta-Analytic Review." The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35 (3): 121–143.
  3. Becker, Benjamin, Yoan Mihov, Dirk Scheele, Keith M. Kendrick, Justin S. Feinstein, Andreas Matusch, Merve Aydin, Harald Reich, Horst Urbach, and Ana-Maria Oros-Peusquens. 2012. "Fear Processing and Social Networking in the Absence of a Functional Amygdala.” Biological Psychiatry 72 (1): 70–77.
  4. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2018. "Seeing Fear: It’s All in the Eyes?" Trends in Neurosciences 41 (9): 559–563.
  5. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2017. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, chapter 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.