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.