The amygdala

The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe

responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear.

It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert,

whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival.

So potent is the amygdala’s response to potential threats

that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off,

and this is a problem in the modern world.

These days, we are saturated with information.

We have millions of news outlets competing for our mind share.

And how do they compete? By vying for the amygdala’s attention.

The old newspaper saw “If it bleeds, it leads” works because the first stop

that all incoming information encounters is an organ

already primed to look for danger. We’re feeding a fiend.

Bad news sells because the amygdala is always looking for something to fear.

Compounding this, our early warning system evolved in an era

of immediacy, when threats were of the tiger-in-the-bush variety.

Things have changed since. Many of today’s dangers are probabilistic

— the economy might nose-dive, there could be a terrorist attack —

and the amygdala can’t tell the difference.

Worse, the system is also designed not to shut off

until the potential danger has vanished completely,

but probabilistic dangers never vanish completely.

Add in an impossible-to-avoid media continuously scaring us

in an attempt to capture market share, and you have a brain

convinced that it’s living in a state of siege

and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

~ by pinoro on December 20, 2014.

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