The amygdala, a part of the brain known for its role in fear, also helps people spot rewards — and go after them
By Susan Gaidos February 26th, 2011; Vol.179 #5 (p. 22)
You know the feeling — the flush of excitement when your boss hands you a bonus check, or you unexpectedly run into an old friend, or you discover a way to get tickets to the big game that was long ago sold out. When life throws you a gift or a gain, it’s not just your mood that perks up. Two small almond-shaped masses of nerve cells buried deep in your brain take notice too. Those clumps of cells, one on each side of the brain, are known as the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh).
For years the amygdala has been regarded primarily as the brain’s center for fear. Scores of studies have shown that it is essential both for perceiving fear and expressing it. In recent years, though, a surge of new research has expanded scientists’ view of the amygdala’s importance. It turns out that the amygdala helps shape behavior in response to all sorts of stimuli, bad and good. It plays a role not only in aversion to fright, but also in pursuit of pleasure.