What Is the Connection between the Amygdala and Emotion?

L.K. Blackburn

The amygdala and emotion are tied together because the amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for interpreting the five senses and producing an emotional response. A body uses emotion to direct it in key activities, such eating, drinking, and sexual reproduction. In evolutionary terms, the amygdala and emotion are responsible for the continued survival of an individual and its species because the amygdala processes fight or flight responses in harmful situations.

Poor functioning of the amygdala, a part of the brain, is associated with autism and shyness disorders as well as other conditions.
Poor functioning of the amygdala, a part of the brain, is associated with autism and shyness disorders as well as other conditions.

A connection between the amygdala and emotion were learned about through the study of patients with lesions in the temporal lobe that had changes in emotional responses and expression. Bilateral lesions on the amygdala used to be purposefully inflicted on psychotic patients in an attempt to calm them down and relieve their suffering. Researchers now use functional imaging and other brain scanning techniques to study the amygdala and emotion. New information is being obtained regarding the role of amygdala in anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.

The amygdala is the part of the limbic system responsible for interpreting the five senses and producing an emotional response.
The amygdala is the part of the limbic system responsible for interpreting the five senses and producing an emotional response.

Historically, fear has been the emotion most tied to the amygdala. Another role of the amygdala and emotion is the acquisition of food and water. Emotion is tied to food and water intake because fear evolved as a survival mechanism for danger, a situation that could be encountered naturally when hunting and finding safe water sources. The amygdala and emotion are also associated with motivation and the use of rewards for learning.

Emotional memory is the unconscious recollection of emotions tied to a specific remembered event or piece of information. The amygdala is part of the process that records and stores emotional memory. Learning processes use emotional memory to remember information, and studies have shown that associating something with an emotion aids in later recollection.

The amygdala processes all forms of sensory information, including sight, sounds, touch, smell, and taste. It tells the body how to react, causing it to quickly run away when danger is detected, or making the body freeze in place from fear. Aggression is another emotion known to be regulated by the amygdala, as may be maternal instincts.

Located within the temporal lobe near the uncus, the amygdala is almond shaped. It is part of the limbic system and is connected to the hypothalmus by the stria terminalis, a connection that runs parallel to the fornix. There is a dual sensory input to the amygdala, with one side running to it directly and the other first stopping for processing within the main cortex. Emotional responses are from the second path, while the first path is a signal that tells the body to quickly react to its situation.

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Discussion Comments


Since the amygdala plays such an important part in recording and storing emotional memory, I wonder if this changes at all as a person ages.

Anytime I have spent time with elderly people it seems like they can clearly remember emotions and situations from the past much easier than the present.

To me, it says that those memories are stored in our brain our whole life, but for some reason they seem to come to the surface more often as we get older.

I don't think we will ever completely understand the complexity or science of the brain. I am a teacher and do know that when rewards for learning are offered, they have a much higher motivation to learn.

Even though I don't quite understand how this works, I see it working every day in how my students learn and respond.


@golf07 - It's interesting that you talk about maternal instincts being connected to certain components of the brain. I always thought every woman naturally had strong maternal instincts, but this isn't always the case.

My ex daughter-in-law has very little of this. Even when our grandson was an infant, there just wasn't the emotional bond there that most mothers have with their children.

It has been really sad to see this and come to find out, she has some mental issues that probably have a lot to do with this. Since these are all somehow connected to the brain, it does make it easier to see how this could affect her maternal instincts as well.

From my point of view it is easy to be somewhat critical and think she doesn't care much about her child. From another point of view, there are other things going on in her brain that she might not be able to control very well.


I have always considered myself an emotional person and never thought much about the correlation between behavior and the brain. I just figured it was the way I was wired and never gave it much more thought.

One thing that has always fascinated me though is how strong something like maternal instincts can be. I grew up as an only child and was never around kids much and never did any babysitting.

While I thought babies were cute, I was never one who wanted to hold every baby I saw. That all changed once I had my own child. My maternal instincts immediately kicked in.

Even though I didn't have much experience in handling babies, it seemed like I naturally knew what to do in order to take care of my baby. I never knew the amygdala in my brain was where this was all controlled.


I am a psychology major and have always been fascinated with the study of the brain and the role emotions play in our lives.

It is easy to see how survival and making sure we have food and water is an emotional issue. I know if I were literally starving, I would do whatever needed to be done in order to find food to live.

I believe that stealing is wrong, but if I needed to steal food in order to survive or feed my kids, I would do it.

As strong as the need for survival is, the sexual drive can be just as strong. When the same part of the brain is the storehouse for all of these emotions, it is easy to see how complex it can become.

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