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The Science of Stress Physiology Emotions Fight Flight

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Uploaded on Jun 4, 2008

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Till 1994 we believed —a wild animal, whatever it happens to be—came through to a relay station called the thalamus, the thalamus sends the information to the cortex, or the pre-frontal cortex. What was believed was the cortex initiates an automatic knee-jerk response: Behavioural - we jump back; Physiological - we increase our blood pressure and adrenalin to fight or flight, and then an Immunological response in case the system is damaged in some way.
But in fact, back in 1994, Joseph LeDoux and his team discovered this pathway to this guy called the amygdala. Now the amygdala is a key emotional centre in the brain, and what they discovered was that it was the amygdala that initiates the response, not the cortex.
In fact, even more important than that, the amygdala initiates the response before the information reaches the cortex. Now, because the amygdala is there to keep us alive, it's actually not very accurate, but very high speed, and the cortex is very accurate, but relatively slow. So, we've initiated a response; activated a response before the information even reaches the cortex.
Why does that matter? Well, the cortex is where we learn new things; it's where we learn how to behave. So what we call default behaviours today—and a perfect example of that would be road-rage—so we might get involved in some altercation on the road, we get very frustrated and angry with somebody, then a moment later we realise we perhaps overreacted; because that's when the cortex has kicked in. And that's literally how we're designed to operate. We are hardwired to respond emotionally first, and think a moment later.
Now why does that really matter in the context of performance? Well, because it's getting in the way of performance. Whether its students in the examination hall, golfers out on the course, literally this process of perception is getting in the way of our performance.
Now, if you consider that the amygdala is programmed from birth—primarily during the first 6-8 weeks—and it sets us up as an adult to behave in a particular way. And if you think of the amygdala as the body's alarm bell, it has what's known as a "comparative function", so if it identifies anything at all that's a threat to us—so for a student revising the exam and taking the exam will feel a sense of anxiety, obviously, we've all experienced that, then the system activates.

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