Amygdala, Greek for almond. A mass of gray matter located within the temporal lobe of the cerebrum; It has the shape and approximate size of an almond kernel.


Among other activities, the amygdala functions in the processing of fear-related memories and helps to coordinate appropriate responses to fearful situations. In other words, using the amygdala, we learn to be afraid.

In humans, tumors in or near the amygdala have been associated with uncontrolled rage. Consider the tragic case of Charles Whitman, who, on an August day in 1966, stabbed to death his wife and mother and then climbed to the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower with a high-power rifle. For 90 minutes he gunned down people below, killing 14 and wounding 19 before being shot and killed by police. In a note found later he wrote about his "unusual and irrational thoughts” and wanted his body to be examined to see if a physical cause could be found for his "mental anguish". An autopsy was performed and a tumor compressing his amygdala was found. No proof of cause and effect but compelling evidence nonetheless of the role the amygdala plays in behavior.

Charles Whitman

McLeod, M. (2000). Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper. Crimelibrary.com/serial/whitman/index.htm

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