January 6, 2013 by Beverley Simpson
Recently I was driving on a freeway with a friend. We were having a quiet companionable moment together when someone cut in front of our car while changing lanes. My companion, who was driving, immediately went ballistic, swearing and yelling at the other driver. His behaviour seemed to come out of nowhere and I was shocked until I remembered reading about the so-called “Amygdala Hijack”, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his writings about Emotional Intelligence.
What an interesting phenomenon this is!
Drawing on LeDoux’s work, which uses animal research to understand pathological fear and anxiety in humans, Goleman uses the term Amygdala Hijack to describe immediate and overwhelming emotional responses which are over the top and out of sync with the actual situation. In these cases the stimulus has triggered a more significant emotional threat than would seem reasonable to an observer.
The neuroscience reads like this: From the thalamus, a part of the stimulus goes directly to the amygdala while another part is sent to the neocortex (the rational or thinking brain).
If the amygdala perceives the stimulus as a fight, flight or freeze situation, it triggers the HPA (hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the rational brain. This emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received, leading to seemingly irrational and possibly destructive behaviour.
If the amygdala does not find any match to the stimulus received with its recorded threatening situations, then it acts according to the directions received from the neocortex.
Now my friend is – most of the time at least – a charming man with a high degree of Emotional Intelligence in his interpersonal relations. He is a leader. As well, he is kind and empathetic, and can often put himself in another person’s shoes and feel deeply for their problems. So when he reacts to a moderate stressor with such an over-the-top response, I find myself getting stressed and wanting to shout at him to settle down and be reasonable, which of course would not be the best choice of my own behaviour!
I wonder if testosterone is involved in some way and if women experience Amygdala Hijacks as often as men may do – and do the trigger circumstances differ with gender differences? or it is more related to temperament and world view thus influencing how different personalties approach and interact with their world?
December 20, 2009 by Beverley Simpson
Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood have created another very special movie now playing across North America. Invictus is the story of Nelson Mandela’s early days as President of South Africa, and particularly how he viewed the country’s Rugby team, the Springboks, and an upcoming World Cup event to be held in South Africa, as an opportunity to bring the country together.
The year is 1995. Mandela (Freeman) is in his first term as President. He recognizes the tremendous challenges facing his government in a land torn apart by apartheid. Racial tensions are at an all time high, people are struggling with the effects of crippling unemployment, and a new black government has shifted the balance of political power. Read more
December 7, 2009 by Beverley Simpson
I was in Trafalgar Square in London England recently and made a point of finding Edith Clavell’s memorial in St Martin’s Place. Like all great leaders, no matter the arena, Edith Clavell had great courage and much tenacity. During the first World War, she was a nurse who remained in Brussels, Belgium, after the Germans occupied the city early in the war, tending to wounded soldiers from all countries at the Red Cross Hospital.
In addition to this work, Clavell helped captured British, French and Belgian soldiers escape to the neutral Netherlands, where most would eventually make it across the channel to England. Born on December 4, 1865 in Swardeston, England, she has been described as a “vivacious, tree-climbing girl who grew into the determined, severe woman we see in the statue.” She has been further described as “headstrong and independent” and thus prevented from attracting “a man of money” and it is said that ” she was too proud to accept a lesser one”. She never married, but devoted her life to nursing.
Here is an account of her work from the diary of a man she nursed back to health:
In 1915 Miss Clavell was directress of l’Ecole Belge d’ Infirmieres Diplomees, as well as a new hospital, St. Gilles, both training women for the profession of nursing. As the great war engulfed Belgium Miss Clavell became part of an underground resistance network working in Brussels to help men escape. She protected hospitalized men by keeping them longer than they needed. When there were no beds available, Edith sheltered men in the hospital’s attic and cellar. In this way, she helped approximately two hundred men escape the Germans. On August 4, 1915, after months of observation, the Germans arrested Edith and others sheltering Belgian soldiers. On October 7, 1915, Edith Clavell, along with others in the underground network were found guilty of resistance activities and sentenced to death by firing squad. Despite American, French and Spanish intercession, Edith’s sentence was not commuted. On October 12, 1915, Edith was executed by German firing squad.
Edith Clavell was 49 years old when she was shot to death. “Her life and death make me think of the line from The Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams’ character, Mr Keatings says to his students: “Make something of yourselves, boys. Make you life count!