The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Panic
The definition of fear has proved to be an elusive mystery plaguing scientists. While there is much agreement as to the physiological effects of fear, the neural pathways and connections that bring upon these effects are not well understood. From the evolutionary standpoint, the theory is that fear is a neural circuit that has been designed to keep the organism alive in dangerous situations (1). How does it all work? Learning and responding to stimuli that warn of danger involves neural pathways that send information about the outside world to the amygdala, which in turn, determines the significance of the stimulus and triggers emotional responses like freezing or fleeing as well as changes in the inner workings of the body's organs and glands (1). There are important distinctions to make between emotions and feelings. Feelings are "red herrings", products of the conscious mind, labels given to unconscious emotions (2) whereas emotions are distinct patterns of behaviors of neurons.