Intouch with Empathy and the Brain: Amygdale, Hippocampus, Prefrontal Cortex


Amygdalus – Implicit Memory:

  • present at birth
  • includes emotional, behavioral, perceptual and possibly body memory
  • no sense of recollection (time) present when memories recalled
  • conscious attention is not required for encoding
  • does not involve the hippo-campus

Hippo-campus – Explicit Memory:

  • requires conscious attention
  • includes semantic(factual) and episodic(autobiographical) memory
  • develops during the second year of life and beyond
  • sense of recollection present when recalled
  • if autobiographical, a sense of self and time and present
  • if autobiographical, also involves the prefrontal cortex

Prefrontal Cortex

  • regulation of body systems
  • attuning to others
  • balancing emotions
  • modulating fear
  • responding flexibly
  • exhibiting insight and empathy
  • paying attention to the body’s wisdom
  • morality

When we are triggered beyond our window of tolerance our pre-frontal cortex function stops and we are left in responses of fight or flight.  If our reactions shifts into freeze, our brain response has moved from the area of the amygdala and into the hippo-campus with no sense of time and into helplessness.

I have come to understand empathy is an effective tool to balance out the responses of hippo-campus and amygdala.  Empathy allows one to recover and  calms ones prefrontal cortex.  As empathy develops it increases connections back and forth between our right and left brains therefore increasing ones windows of tolerance.  I have also heard that empathy may have a direct link in the amygdala’s ability to accelerate the vagus nerve.

This goes beyond simply a reaction and includes the activation of our  parasympathetic system through the vagus nerve.  See diagram below to get an idea of the areas that become aroused as when we are stimulated.

These reactions includes our motor control.  As we surpass our window of tolerance we begin to lose our fine motor control.  We begin to lose our ability for tracking,  to focus and mind-fully integrate. This involves our ability for self connection, to feel safe, grounded and to be present in the now.

There are  theories to suggest the Amygdala is the accelerator through the 3 channels of the vagus nerve that controls our fight, flight and freeze experience and the quickest tool to connect to the Amygdala is through empathy.

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One response to “Intouch with Empathy and the Brain: Amygdale, Hippocampus, Prefrontal Cortex

  1. Pingback: Connecting stress, adrenal glands, empathy, movement and sleep sweet sleep | Inside Awareness Blog

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