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Questions & Answers: What is the amygdala?

Q. What is the amygdala, and what are its functions?

A. The amygdala is the linchpin of human emotion. A deep structure of the brain, it is located in front of the hippocampus on the underside of the temporal lobes. Its shape is reflected in its name, which is derived from the Greek amugdale, or almond. The vital responsibility of the amygdala is to receive information from the environment, evaluate its emotional significance, and organize a fitting response.

It is well situated for this work. From the hypothalamus, it receives information about the body's reactions to the environment (for example, heart rate, blood pressure, digestive processes). It responds to the brain's conscious evaluation of noteworthy events by communicating with the cerebral cortex. The amygdala coordinates these complementary viewpoints, integrating conscious experience with physical sensations that are not under conscious control. And through its connections to the hippocampus, a center of memory consolidation, the amygdala plays a role in registering emotional memories.

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