The Role of Amygdala in Fear Conditioning

The Role of Amygdala in Fear Conditioning





The Role of Amygdala in Fear Conditioning

Fear conditioning involves the procedure through which organisms learn to exhibit fear for novel stimuli. In technicality, the process comprises the pairing of unbiased stimuli with an unconditioned stimulus (LeDoux, 2003). The unbiased (neutral) stimuli may constitute a tone within a specific neutral context such as a room. Consequently, the unconditioned stimulus may comprise loud noise, foot shock or distasteful odor. Naturally, the neutral stimulus does not exude any emotional responses. However, after recurrent coupling with the unconditioned stimulus, the respective incentive progresses into a conditioned stimulus (LeDoux, 2003). Based on this process, it is apparent that fear significantly adopts the process through which anxiety disorders occur. This is due to the effect of the conditioned stimulus on the commencement of the unconditioned stimulus, which leads to the origination of anxiety connected to the expectation of the aversive unconditioned spur (LeDoux, 2003).

Simply, fear is the conditioned response that arises from the combination of the neutral stimulus (conditioned stimulus) and the aversive stimulus (unconditioned stimulus). Indeed, this phenomenon offers an exclusive and entailing illustration of the reasons why people possess differentiating levels of fear. Accordingly, based on the correlation between the neutral and the aversive stimulus, the outcome that results from such a blend is different due to the forms of stimuli that people interact with on a routine basis. Because of this relationship with different stimuli, people tend to associate their fears with their surroundings. This elucidates why human beings tend to express fear in different amounts for different facets. An example of fear conditioning involves the fear of canines. For example, a person may express fear for a dog based on a traumatic experience. For instance, if the person sustained an injury from the dog’s bite during his childhood, then it is clear that his fear of dogs in the current period expresses fear conditioning.

Accordingly, fear conditioning relies extensively on a region of the brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala exhibits significant involvement in various facets of fear development. Apart from being involved in fear conditioning, the respective brain region also modulates alertness as well as memory with respect to stimuli related to fear. In addition, the amygdala also provides basis for the recognition of fear as well as the induction of mannerisms relating to fear. Nonetheless, in order to understand the circuitry of the amygdala in relation to fear conditioning, it is imperative to focus on its double sensory input structure (LeDoux, 2003). Consequently, the amygdala’s inputs commence from the eyes, ears as well as other sensory organs and culminate at the thalamus (Feinstein, Adolphs, Damasio & Tranel, 2011). At this location, they diverge with one path leading unswervingly to the respective region while the other one passes via the cortex. Each input induces a unique and specialized mannerism.

Based on this structure, the amygdala mainly focuses on responding to stimuli as well as eliciting a physiological retort, which is fear. After the elicitation of the conditioned response, the stimulus from the amygdala’s activation undergoes transmission directly to the cortex (LeDoux, 2003). Even though this stimulus evokes fear, it is a unique disparity from fear since it does not relate to any function of the working memory. In addition, the assumption is that emotions originate from the subsequent slower path, which moves from the input initially to the elevated cortex and then proceeds towards the discussed brain region. At the end of this process, the amygdala receives a response. Accordingly, the first signal, which activates the amygdala as well as its relative physiological mannerisms, arranges the body in order for it to elicit immediate retort to the stimulus (LeDoux, 2003). By arranging the body for response, the proceeding circuit assesses the signal completely in order top ascertain whether the threat is actual or perceived.

The case of patient SM provides an extensive illustration of the operation of the amygdala in relation to fear conditioning. Firstly, patient SM constitutes a woman. She is 44 years old. The main reason behind the utilization of patient SM is in accordance to the disorders she suffers in relation to the respective region. Accordingly, patient SM suffers from Bilateral Amygdala Damage (Feinstein et al, 2011). Her injury to the amygdala provides a significant case for understanding the responsibility of the area in conditioning fear. In order to understand the patient’s fear conditioning, two facets were applicable for analysis. One of these elements is fear induction, which is the exposure to stimuli with the ability to trigger a condition of fear (Feinstein et al, 2011). The other facet, fear experience, constitutes the subjective sentiment of fear measured by the patient’s self-review of her personal experience (Feinstein et al, 2011).

From the results, it is apparent that the amygdala plays a significant responsibility in fear conditioning. Accordingly, patient SM, who possesses impairments to this particular area, exudes severe disability in fear conditioning. One example of this situation is the experience she possesses with snakes. Usually, patient SM detests snakes and spiders and naturally attempts to avert them. However, after visiting a pet store, it was evident that there was a considerable disconnection between her verbally acclaimed aversion and her real-time mannerism (Feinstein et al, 2011). This is because patient SM did not express fear while she touched the snakes and shortly attempted to touch the tarantula spider. However, she had to be restricted due to the poisonous nature of the spider (Feinstein et al, 2011). Based on this illustration, it is apparent that her damage to the amygdala restricted the region from exhibiting the sentiment of fear based on the experience she had with both animal species.

Conclusively, it is eminent that the amygdala assumes a significant role in the conditioning of fear. Based on patient SM, it is apparent that her damage to the region provided a significant disconnection between her verbal and practical experience. Her lack of fear conditioning provided her with the inability to express fear at the sight of the snakes as well as the spiders, which she claimed to avert verbally. With relation to the respective case, it is also understandable to assert that insufficient fear conditioning in childhood may relate with engagement in criminal behavior during adulthood. Indeed, fear conditioning during childhood may provide an individual of the engagements that he or she may avert or engage in. Accordingly, the experiences that a person goes through provide platforms for conditioning fear. Based on this, if a child goes through a traumatic or possibly fearful experience, then it is more likely that the feeling of fear will continue prevailing even in his or her adult life.

However, lack of fear conditioning will increase the chances of a child to commit crime during his or her adulthood. Even though the research of the relationship between the amygdala and the working memory is still ongoing, it is apparent that the memory plays a significant role in fear modulation, recognition, response and conditioning. Therefore, if a child possesses insufficient fear conditioning, then it illustrates that he or she does not possess any restrictions in relation to fear. Hence, based on this, the child will probably engage in criminal activities since his or her experiences do not evoke aversive sufficient aversive stimuli for combination with the neutral stimulus. Therefore, the child does not possess any form of fear conditioning and may engage in delinquency during adulthood.








Feinstein, J. S., Adolphs, R., Damasio, R. A., & Tranel, D. (2011). The human amygdala and the induction and experience of fear. Current Biology, 21(1), 34-38.

LeDoux, J. (2003). The emotional brain, fear and the amygdala. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 23(4/5), 727-738.

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