Your amygdala is a small part of your brain, but it has a big job. It’s a major processing center for emotions. It also links your emotions to many other brain abilities, especially memories, learning and your senses. When it doesn’t work as it should, it can cause or contribute to disruptive feelings and symptoms.


The amygdala is a paired internal brain structure (both are referred to as one structure). It handles emotional processing.
The amygdala is a paired structure (the two are considered one brain area) inside your temporal lobe. It's a key part of emotional control and processes. It also plays a role in memory and learning.

What is the amygdala?

Your amygdala is a small, almond-shaped structure inside of your brain. It’s part of a larger network in your brain called the limbic system. When it comes to your survival, your amygdala and limbic system are extremely important. These are parts of your brain that automatically detect danger. They also play a role in behavior, emotional control and learning.


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What does the amygdala do?

Fear is the main emotion that the amygdala is known to control. That’s why your amygdala is so important to survival. It processes things you see or hear and uses that input to learn what’s dangerous. If you encounter something similar in the future, your amygdala will cause you to feel fear or similar emotions.

However, research shows that the amygdala contributes to more than just anxiety or fear. It also plays a role in the following:

  • Aggression.
  • Learning through rewards and punishment.
  • Handling and using implicit (unconscious) memory, which allows you to remember how to do certain things without remembering how you learned them (like riding a bike or tying your shoes).
  • Social communication and understanding, including how you interpret someone’s intentions from how they talk or act).
  • Emotions that relate to parenting and caregiving.
  • Emotions we connect to memories.
  • Learned behaviors related to addiction.


Where is the amygdala located?

Your amygdala is part of your temporal lobe. It’s a paired structure, meaning you have two of them, one on each side of your brain (experts refer to both using the singular form of the word). Your amygdala sits near several structures that carry information from your senses, especially smell (which is why scents can connect strongly to emotions and memories). Your amygdala also connects to brain areas that process vision and hearing.

Vertically, your amygdala is nearly level with your eyes. If you touch your fingertip to the temple of your head (just above the joint where your jawbone connects to your skull) and point directly toward the temple on the opposite side of your head, you’re pointing at your amygdala or very near it. It’s nearly halfway between the center of your brain and skull (more toward the center).


What does the amygdala look like?

The amygdala gets its name from its shape. “Amygdala” comes from the Greek word for “almond.” Most brain tissue is pinkish-beige when there’s blood circulating through it (it looks gray without blood circulating). The amygdala is slightly darker in color than the surrounding brain tissue.

The amygdala is small, though its size can vary slightly depending on the overall size of your brain and other factors. The average amygdala is about the size of a shelled peanut.

What is the amygdala made of?

Your brain tissue, including the amygdala, consists mainly of:

  • Neurons: These cells send and relay electrical and chemical signals throughout your brain and nervous system.
  • Glial cells: These include several types of cells that are like caretakers for the neurons. They do maintenance and other critical support tasks on and around the neurons.

Neurons bundle together into fibers. Those fibers bundle together to form nuclei. Your amygdala consists of 13 nuclei in total.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect the amygdala?

Most conditions that can affect or involve your amygdala are psychiatric (mental health-related) or neurological (brain-related). Many amygdala-affecting conditions fall under both categories because disruptions in brain function commonly affect your mental health.

Mental health conditions can include (but aren’t limited to) the following:

Brain-related conditions that can involve the amygdala include (but aren’t limited to) the following:

Common signs or symptoms of conditions that affect the amygdala

Signs and symptoms of conditions affecting your amygdala vary widely depending on the underlying condition. Symptoms can involve emotional changes or automatic body process shifts because of those emotions. Some examples of process shifts include:

Other symptoms are also possible. If you know you have a condition that affects your amygdala, you can talk to your healthcare provider about what you’re concerned about or experiencing. They can help you identify symptoms you should watch for and guide you on what you can do about them.

If you don’t know you have a condition that affects your amygdala but think you might have one, you should also see a healthcare provider. They can run tests and diagnose any issues they find. They can also guide you on possible treatments and ways you can manage your symptoms.

Common tests to check the amygdala

Several imaging and diagnostic tests can check for issues affecting your amygdala. Some examples include (but aren’t limited to):

Other tests are also possible, depending on your symptoms or what your healthcare provider suspects might be causing them. Your provider can tell you more about possible tests, which ones they recommend and why.

Common treatments for the amygdala

There aren’t any treatments that specifically help the amygdala. Instead, treatments target specific symptoms or conditions related to it.

Treatments can vary widely and include:

A treatment that helps one condition may not help others (or could even make some conditions worse). Your healthcare provider is the best source of information about possible or recommended treatments.



How can I take care of my amygdala?

You can do several things to take care of your brain, including your amygdala. They include:

  • Reach and maintain a weight that’s healthy for you. This is a key way to prevent (or at least delay and limit the severity of) conditions like strokes. Your healthcare provider can offer suggestions and guidance on how to do this.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have major negative effects on your brain. Eating a balanced diet can help you avoid these issues.
  • Protect yourself from injuries. Wearing a helmet or safety restraints (such as seat belts) can help you avoid injuries to your head and brain.
  • Manage chronic conditions. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance if you’re receiving treatment for chronic conditions. This is especially the case for seizures and epilepsy, but it can also apply to conditions that increase the risk of stroke, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), Type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia).

Additional Common Questions

What is an amygdala hijack?

One particularly valuable ability your amygdala has is to skip processing steps related to your senses. For example, if you hear a familiar, dangerous sound, your amygdala immediately sends emergency signals to make you react before other areas of the brain process what the sound was. That’s why sudden loud sounds can cause the acoustic startle reflex, which makes you jump or flinch.

That effect can also take a more extreme form: The “amygdala hijack” or “emotional hijack.” Hollywood movies often depict a law enforcement officer commandeering someone’s car in an emergency. An amygdala hijack is when your amygdala takes control of your body to protect you from danger.

This effect is helpful in dangerous situations, activating your fight-or-flight response so you can protect yourself. But it can also contribute to mental health conditions like PTSD, especially when it mistakenly interprets things happening around you as signs of danger.

How do you know if your amygdala is damaged?

Amygdala damage disrupts your ability to feel fear or learn from it. While that might sound like a good thing, fear can be valuable. It’s how you learn to spot danger and protect yourself.

If you suspect you have damage or a problem affecting your amygdala, you should talk to a healthcare provider. They can help determine if there’s an issue, run tests to look for damage to your amygdala or refer you to a specialist who can help further.

How do you calm down your amygdala?

Like many functions in your brain, your amygdala isn’t something you can control directly. You need it for many reasons, not just fear. But it can disrupt your life if it causes excessive fear or anxiety, or causes those too frequently.

Some things you can do to help counter the effects of anxiety, fear or panic include:

  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience recurring issues with fear, anxiety or panic. Their job is to help you, not judge you. They can provide resources and guidance that can help you deal with short- and long-term emotional and mental health issues.
  • Learn how to deal with panic attacks. You can do several things to regain control of your brain if you have a panic attack. Breathing exercises, grounding techniques and more can all be helpful.
  • Find ways to manage stress and anxiety. People use mental health therapy, hobbies, meditation, physical activity and other methods to help them deal with anxiety and fear. Find what works for you and then use it as needed. If you’re having trouble finding something that works, your healthcare provider may be able to offer suggestions or guidance.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your amygdala is one of the first parts of your brain to react to danger, making it a key part of surviving and keeping yourself safe from harm. It also plays a role in positive emotions, learning, memory and more. Understanding how your amygdala works can clue you in if there’s an issue with your brain or mental health. That way, you can live without worrying about fear taking over your life and keeping you from doing the things you enjoy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/11/2023.

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