The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search For Happiness

The Biology of Money

What role does the amygdala play?

Amygdala is a critical part of the limbic system. The amygdala is particularly responsive to fearful cues, that is, cues of danger. When amygdala is activated, it stimulates activity in the hypothalamus, which in turn sends messages to the autonomic nervous system. This activates physiological stress responses, such as rapid heart beat, perspiration, shallow breath, etc. The amygdala is highly responsive to cues of financial loss. Cues signaling immediate danger of loss activate the amygdala. This in turn stimulates an emotional reaction which may or may not reach consciousness, but will nonetheless affect our decision making. This reaction underlies our tendency to loss aversion. Like the nucleus accumbens and the dopaminergic reward system, the amygdala is highly attuned to immediate cues, but not very good at evaluating the meaning of the cues in the context of current and future circumstances. That role falls to the frontal lobe.


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