The Autopiloting Amygdala

The last time we had visited the amygdala, we were discussing about it’s direct effect to release cortisol and block the Executive Functioning process of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. It pays to also remember that the Amygdala is part of the Limbic System which is a system mainly responsible for respiration, emotions and the sleep-wake cycle. In order to demonstrate the direct effect of how indeed the Amygdala ‘freezes’ up the Captain of Meaningful Integrated Learning, I have included a diagram below:

http://huehueteotl.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/amygdala-and-learning-fear/

As educators it is important to understand what happens in the brain when a student encounters a stimulus that arouses fear and/or stress–this stimulus could be from a teacher’s reprimand, a class reaction from a wrong response, being asked to read aloud in class etc. Once we understand and recognize a fear response, we can tailor our responses and interactions to ensure we are not perpetuating the fight, flight, freeze response and that our students’ thinking brain is once again in control.

The following scenario may assist in breaking down what is happening in the brain during a fear response:

1. Sensory Data is fed to the Thalamus – Class laughing at a wrong response volunteered by a student.

2. Data is sent to the Amygdala – Student’s bodily reaction (from all senses and the nervous systems) to laughter is sent to the Amygdala.

3. Data is simultaneously sent to the Cortex – Student’s bodily reaction (from all senses and the nervous systems) to laughter is concurrently sent to the Cerebral Cortex (the four lobes).

4. Amygdala does the ‘quick threat’ assessment – Student’s bodily reaction tells amygdala that laughter needs to be classified immediately in this situation as either to fight, flight, or freeze.

5.  Amygdala blocks ‘slow’ thinking – Based on the Amygdala’s classification, the Student’s body is prepared for the next stages of either fight, flight or freeze by ‘shutting’ down the cortex (the four lobes are thereby disconnected from the Amygdala).

6. ‘Unthinking” response is actualized – With the lockdown from the PFC (Pre-Frontal Cortex) being activated, the Student then responds by Amygdala’s discretion:  Either laughing with the class at himself and directing classes attention elsewhere (flight), retaliating to the class with a comeback (fight) or falling silent (freeze).

There may be no structured formula or foolproof prevention in decreasing the amygdala’s influence on disconnection the PFC circuit, however it is a safe bet that creating a learning atmosphere that is seamless into the child and student’s frame of mind, chances are, the brain will follow suit; when fear isn’t incited, the PFC is active and can synthesize information without threat from reflexive responses. Cooperative work and play become more productive and meaningful within and among peers.

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