The Amygdala - the gatekeeper of risk


Improv can help take control back from the amygdala and help with fear and risk taking.

We all face fear in our lives and react in different ways. From the king of them all - public speaking to snakes, spiders, rejection, success  - everyone is afraid of something. Well, not everyone...

This article talks about a woman who has a damaged amygdala. The amygdala is a pair of almond shaped glad that is in the brain stem (the reptilian brain for you Triune Brain fans) that control our "fight or flight" response. Of course there's more to it than that simple definition - but it's a pretty good working definition for most of us.

When we have no fear, we can do amazing things because we don't see real threats as dangerous. But sometimes that danger is real and we need that reaction, so before you go off to the neurosurgeon to have your amygdala removed let me give you another option.

We have a thinking part of our brain too (the neocortex) and this is described as the "know" part of the brain as opposed to the "go" part. This thinking part can be used to overcome the urges of the amygdala if you train yourself in the right conditions.

Improv can help in two ways.

The amygdala takes control when the level of danger you perceive gets to great and your brain things your life is in danger. In the modern world this looks more like speaking to a large group than running from tigers, but our brains have not quite caught up with the urban lifestyle. When the amygdala takes control it's sometimes called an "amygdala hijack."

Improv help #1 - In improv you are asked to live in uncertainty and risk all the time, and the more your do, the more you build up a tolerance and learn that these risks are not threatening to your life. Hence - fewer hijacks.

Improv help #2 - By integrating and drawing on both hemispheres of the brain and the nature and biochemistry of fun, creativity, and intellectual pursuit - improv is good for your brain. And this means that you have better impulse control and therefore better reactions when you the amygdala warms up. Hence - better reactions.

See this Amp at