What Is the Connection between the Amygdala and Memory?

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  • Written By: S. Berger
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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The amygdala is a structure in the brain usually associated with emotional states. There is, however, a strong connection between the amygdala and memory. Acting in conjunction with other parts of the limbic system, such as the hippocampus, this part of the brain helps regulate and encode emotional memories. Future behavior is often dictated by emotional memory. Associating an emotion such as fear with a particular event can help one react to dangerous stimuli, or a feeling of pleasure with a certain food can help guide future diet choices.

There are two competing theories as to how the amygdala helps emotional memory to form. The amygdala may directly encode emotional memory to some extent, working with the hippocampus. Alternately, it may provide input for memory processing performed by the hippocampus. Some researchers have even proposed a fluid integration of these theories, where the regulation of emotion and memory may actually take place using activity in both of these structures. The amygdala is closely related to memory, even if the amygdala does not form memories on its own.


Conditioning a fear response is an important link between the amygdala and memory, but this structure actually influences memory in other ways. The amygdala seems to regulate how other brain regions encode long-term memories. When larger degrees of emotional arousal during an event activate this part of the brain, the event seems to be more strongly encoded, and more easily recalled. This connection between the amygdala and memory could explain why people remember traumatic events more readily, and than those without emotional content.

The ability of the amygdala and memory to work together can be essential for survival. It is also important to note that having too strong a connection, and remembering frightening or traumatizing events too easily, can be a deficit. One theory behind post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is that stressful stimuli, or stimuli similar to the initial traumatic event, overactivate the amygdala. In turn, the individual with PTSD recalls the traumatizing event, along with the negative emotions that initially accompanied it. A similar over activation could be a feature of some forms of anxiety disorders, as well.

Even positive emotions can facilitate the storage of memories. Emotional arousal of any type leads to synchronized activity in the amygdala, which could be linked to an increased ability to form neuronal connections. These strengthened connections may promote interaction that allows memories to be recalled more quickly. Larger amygdalae may have a greater ability to accomplish this feat.


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Post 3

@Laotionne - You are right about the effects of stress. I worked with a news reporter who was having a really tough time adapting to his new job. His editor and his managing editor were always riding him. He was a competent reporter and an intelligent person, but the more and more the stress began to build, the more mistakes he began to make.

He would forget meetings, forget about articles he was supposed to be working on and he even started forgetting conversations he had had.

Post 2

It seems logical to me that the memory and the emotional state of a person would have some connection. I have noticed that when people are depressed or going through a particularly stressful period in their lives, they tend to be more forgetful. I guess the part of the brain that is dealing with the stress and the depression is so busy and focused that it is not as good at retaining new information.

Post 1

When I was in first grade, I had a terrible teacher who was eventually fired because she had some mental issues that made her a bad choice for teaching kids, especially really young kids like first graders. Unfortunately, she wasn't fired until after I had been through her class. She made my first grade school year a living hell.

On my way to school in the mornings, I would get physically ill. I would get headaches and stomach aches. I missed a lot of days that school year. Anyway, I somehow survived and went on to second grade, and eventually on to college.

So, I guess the story turned out okay, but everyday I went to school during

and after that first grade experience, I always felt uncomfortable in classrooms. My girlfriend in college was a psychology major and she told me that what I experienced with classrooms was a form of PTSD and that my fears and emotional reactions were in part related to the amygdala part of the brain.

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