Brain Paint ACar
Wisdom and Amygdala Clicking


So.... I am listening to talk radio today, listening to the moderator
complain about various very objectionable government policies, officials, and actions by the same-- and it makes me wonder some very rudimentary questions...

Who is controlling one's quality of life?

Why is one life experience different from that of another?

Who can change one's life experience?


What is the SUM PLANETARY TOTAL of Collective Intelligence Perception?

What role does the individual play in collective experience?

Who is in control of EARTH Consciousness Life Experiment?

Thus, what is the most important thing to any one person?



                                         -Neil, July 2007






Wisdom and Amygdala Clicking

By Marie-Louise Oosthuysen de Gutierrez




The old are not always wise, just as the young may not always lack wisdom, but the fact remains that the manifestation of wisdom in people remains elusively few and far between. Wisdom does seem to increase as we age, peaking around middle to old age (around the 60’s). When cognitive decline sets in due to old age (around 75 years of age), wisdom also declines.  Can clicking the amygdala forward lead us up the path of wisdom, the greatest achievement of human potential?  To answer that question we should first look at what wisdom is. 



What is Wisdom?

A few brave individuals have tried to define wisdom, but alas, a single definition appears  elusive.  Researchers agree that wisdom is a balancing act between three factors:  (a) knowledge which is dissected by analyzing, reflecting, judging and seeing another’s point of view; (b) emotional intelligence which includes compassion, empathy, generosity, resilience, and the ability to retain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity; and (c) the ability to learn from one’s own mistakes and negative experiences while remaining positive.  This emotional regulatory valve is representative of a social, intra-, and interpersonal form of knowledge about the human psyche that is filtered through the executive centers of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.  “The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm” defined wisdom as good judgment, empathetic understanding, psychological insight, emotional regulation, and discerning and shrewd advice.


Researchers have found that those in the third age manage their emotions better than do the younger generations.  The older the person, the more likely that he/she is experiencing mixed emotions as opposed to feeling either positive or negative, as is usually the case in younger people.  This state of “mixed emotions” allows the individual to regulate his/her emotional states better than when the emotional state is singular (positive or negative).  Therefore, older people are emotionally speaking more even-keeled, which also results in better emotional resilience. Wise individuals learn from negative experiences without dwelling on them, acting on situations they can control, and accepting their limits in situations they cannot control.  Being able to cope successfully with hardship and crises throughout life not only makes man wise, it is also considered one of the pathways to wisdom.



The Link between the Amygdala, Prefrontal Cortex and Wisdom

Wise people appear to activate their prefrontal cortex in emotional situations. The prefrontal cortex exerts executive control over many brain functions by regulating and reducing activity in the amygdala.  Increased activity in the amygdala was found in people with poor emotional regulation. Increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol are also linked to higher amygdala activity.


A neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, Richard J. Davidson, investigated patterns of brain activity associated with emotional regulation in a small group of older individuals (average age 64 years) who participated in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study.  He concluded that individuals who regulate negative emotion well by voluntarily using cognitive strategies (activating the prefrontal cortex) to assess or reappraise a stimulus, also showed reduced activation of the amygdala, resulting in a distinctly different brain activity pattern from their emotionally unintelligent counterparts.  Individuals who train themselves to regulate and modulate their emotions cognitively bounce back from adversity by registering the negative and then moving on emotionally speaking – no negative dwelling.  Those who regulated their emotions well activated the prefrontal cortex (executive control center) and at the same time reduced activity in the amygdala.  Davidson concluded that the ability to activate the prefrontal cortex and reduce activity in the amygdala led to better stress management (by reducing the amount of cortisol that gets released) and the ability to bounce back from adversity (by not dwelling on the negative). This optimal regulation of emotion is therefore physiologically speaking, visible in the brain.


In other words, if you are able to click your amygdala forward and to activate the prefrontal cortex at will, you are in essence putting the amygdala on “standby mode” by transferring the processing of the stimulus to the prefrontal cortex. Also note that individuals who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) have enlarged amygdalae due to the overstimulation of these brain structures. The individual with PTSD is not able to transfer the processing of the constant/multiple stressful situations to the prefrontal cortex, thus clinging to the negative stimulus, resulting in elevated cortisol levels which in turn keep stimulating the amygdala even although the outside stimulus is no longer present, resulting in a vicious cycle of amygdala overstimulation.


In a different study conducted by Laura Carstensen (Stanford University), Mara Mather (University of California at Santa Cruz), John Gabrieli (MIT), et al, fMRI studies were performed on young and older people to investigate whether emotional regulation left a trace on the amygdala.  The study found a marked difference in amygdala activation between older and younger people.  Older people activate the amygdala only when they see positive images; the negative images seem to be ignored, neurologically speaking. The amygdala of younger people are activated when they view both positive and negative images, which means that young people cling neurologically to negative information and feelings. They also cling to the positive information, but they are not able to shrug off the negative emotions as efficiently as older (and wiser) people can.  William James said in his book “The Principles of Psychology” (published in 1890): “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” Carstensen referred to this “neurological ignoring” of negative stimuli as “disattention”.



The Meditation Link

Mindful meditation has also been touted as a pathway to wisdom.  In his book “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman says that mindful mediation works because the left prefrontal cortex (the brain structure that “suppresses amygdala hijacks and generates positive feelings”) becomes “significantly more active“.  He also says that the sense of alertness and greater relaxation stems from “an underlying change in the brain” which “duplicates that found in those individuals who are most resilient and adaptable under stress” .... another outward sign of the amygdala-prefrontal cortical activation path followed.  Various studies on mediation have concluded that its practice increases activity in the left prefrontal cortex and these changes are stable over time – the effect lingers, even if the individual stops meditating for a while.  The left prefrontal cortex is responsible for our abilities to plan, to concentrate, meta-cognition (thinking about thinking), and positive affect (good feelings).  Similar studies have found a link between anxiety and depression with decreased activity in the left prefrontal cortex and increased activity in the right prefrontal cortex.  Note that according to the theory of vectorial hemisphericity, when activity in one amygdala increases, the opposite amygdala’s activity decreases.



The Amygdala – Prefrontal Cortical Pathway as Illustrated by Drugs

The link between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex can be seen quite easily under the influence of various drugs.  Alcohol depresses the brain in general, but the sophisticated prefrontal cortex is affected before less complex areas. Before slurred speech and walking unsteadily are outward signs of alcohol intoxication, the individual displays lowered inhibitions, decreased attention span, and an increased influence of emotions over behaviour.  The ADD/ADHD drug Ritalin, has the opposite effect, because it stimulates activity in the prefrontal cortex.



CONCLUSION: The Amygdalae, Prefrontal Cortex, EI, and Wisdom

The evolutionary older amygdalae function first and foremost to ensure our survival, but their quick judgments and decisions are prone to error especially in modern society.  If the prefrontal cortex can be alerted the moment the amygdala sense a red-flag situation, it will be able to act as a skilled negotiator who can intervene before fight or flight, fear or anger, conflict, anxiety, and stress responses are triggered. All scientists that have studied this link agree that this response/activation path does exist and that the brain can be trained to follow it.  And probably the easiest training method is learning how to click your amygdala forward in order to transfer the processing of stimuli to the prefrontal cortex via the response/activation path.


According to Goleman emotional intelligence can be increased, with “small but steady and significant increases as people go from age group to age group, with a peak occurring in the forties”.  I would venture to conclude that those emotionally intelligent 40-somethings who keep clicking their amygdala forward, stimulating the amygdala-prefrontal cortex pathway, go on to reach the ultimate of human potential in their third age: wisdom!



POST SCRIPT:  For those interested in reading a bit more about the neural pathways that link the brain structures referred to in the text above, I made a short summary:


The bidirectional Amygdala-Prefrontal-Orbitofrontal Cortical Pathways

Bidirectional neural circuits, formed by projections to and from the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, are implicated in certain cognitive and emotional processes. 

·               The neurotransmitter, dopamine, was found to regulate the balance of excitatory and inhibitory influence between the basolateral amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex.  Normal function in the prefrontal cortex is critically dependent on the balance of transmission by dopaminergic and adrenergic fibers. 

·               An interconnected cortical pathway that may mediate certain types of decision-making processes exists between the basolateral amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortical region of the prefrontal cortex.  The serial information transfer between the basolateral amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex is implicated in cause and effect (selecting an appropriate response to an expected outcome relative to the cost of certain actions).

·               The medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices have densely distributed projection neurons to the hypothalamus and amygdala.  Both cortices also have hypothalamic axonal terminations in the intermediolateral column of the spinal cord (to innervate peripheral autonomic organs), and several brainstem structures. These descending pathways from the medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices through the amygdala, are the highways that transmit quick influences from the prefrontal cortex to the autonomic system, resulting in the appreciation and expression of emotions, by quieting the activity of the central nucleus of the amygdala.

·               Although the two cortices are connected (and also to lateral prefrontal cortices), the medial prefrontal cortex differs from the orbitofrontal cortex in various ways:

o               Widespread and well distributed network of nerve fibers to several nuclei of the amygdala, which in turn project to the hypothalamus

o               Stronger neuronal projections to the hypothalamic autonomic centers

o               Comparatively sparse connections with sensory areas

o               The medial prefrontal cortex has dual access to the emotional motor system – directly via the pathway to the hypothalamic and brainstem autonomic centers, and indirectly through the amygdala.

·               The amygdala is activated even when we are not consciously aware of a possible dangerous situation, through thalamic pathways that bypass the cortex. Repetitive activation of the bidirectional pathways that link the amygdala to the prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices is necessary to ensure the conscious appreciation of the emotionally significance of events.  Working together, the orbitofrontal and all prefrontal cortices can evaluate emotional events and rapidly influence the lowest levels of the autonomic nervous system to mediate emotional expression.






Adrenergic Fibers – Adrenergic fibers are also known as the postganglionic sympathetic nerve fibers.  The primary neurotransmitter of postganglionic sympathetic nerve fibers is norepinephrine (or noradrenaline).  These fibers transmit impulses to other nerve cells, smooth muscle, or gland cells via norepinephrine.


Amygdala - Buried deep within the medial frontal temporal lobes of both hemispheres, we find the amazing amygdalae (or amygdalas) – an almond shaped neurostructure, one in each hemisphere, which is part of the limbic system.  The amygdala is a small mass of gray matter, which originated in early fishes and evolved to mediate the evolutionary ancient chemical nervous system represented today by our bloodstream.  In modern man it is central in processing strong emotions (both positive and negative).  Working through the hypothalamus, the amygdala releases excitatory hormones into circulating blood whenever it senses a red-flag situation. The amygdala plays a key role in regulating emotions like anger, fear, love, and sadness.  Involved in signalling the cortex of motivationally significant stimuli like those related to reward and fear.  There is one amygdala located in each hemisphere (plural amygdalae).  The amygdalae are mature at birth and are very well connected to the rest of the brain.  The cortex is greatly influenced by the amygdala as it receives a lot more input from the amygdala than vice versa, although the information flows both ways.  The reason for this could be because the amydalae are considered reactive, while the frontal lobes are reflective.   Also see “Vectorial Hemisphericity”.


Basolateral Amygdala – The amygdaloid complex consists of three collections of nuclei, the largest (and best differentiated) of these nuclei is the basolateral nuclear group which consists of the lateral nucleus, the multifaceted basal nucleus, and the accessory basal nucleus.  The basolateral amygdala together with the orbitofrontal cortex are critical for the application of learned representations of outcomes in order to guide behaviour.  This is achieved when the basolateral amygdala acquires associations between cues and outcomes, and the orbitofrontal cortex applies that knowledge to guide behaviour.


Amygdala hijack/kidnapping  - When strong emotions take over one’s actions, forcing action without thinking, resulting in an inappropriate response, the amygdala has hijacked/kidnapped the brain.  The opposite of an amygdala hijack is emotional intelligence.

Amygdala clicking -  Amygdala clicking was developed by Dr. T.D. Lingo at the Dormant Brain Research and Development Laboratory from 1957 to 1987.  It is a simple visualization technique where one visualizes the location of the amygdalae (temporal lobe, halfway between the outside corner of the eye and the top of the ear, about 1 inch into the brain, behind the eye), and then visualizing tickling the front (anterior) area of the amygdalae with a feather (one at a time or both together using two imaginary feathers).  The biofeedback parameters are primarily positive emotional feelings and a tingling sensation (like electrical currents) running down the forehead. Increased intelligence and creativity have been reported as a result of clicking the amygdalae forward.  Dr. Lingo’s star pupil, Neil Slade, has continued his work and you can read more about amygdala clicking at


Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) – The Anterior Cingulate Cortex is the frontal part of the Cingulate cortex (a “collar”-like structure around the Corpus Callosum).  The ACC consists of both the ventral and dorsal areas of the Cingulate Cortex and is involved in many autonomic functions (blood pressure, heart rate) and also rational cognitive functions (decision making, emotion, reward anticipation, empathy).  According to the research, the dorsal ACC is primarily involved in rational cognition while the ventral ACC relates to emotional cognition.


Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – The ANS is also known as the Visceral Nervous System and is that part of the nervous system that controls homeostasis. It controls involuntary functions such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive functions; perspiration; pupil dilation; salivation; the discharge of urine (micturition); and erection. The sensory and motor neurons that supply nerves to the viscera form reflex arcs that pass through the lower brainstem or medulla oblongata which explains why a vegetative life is possible when the CNS (Central Nervous System) is damaged.


Cortisol - Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone which is produced by the adrenal gland and is involved in the body’s response to stress. Its function is to increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels, resulting in an immunosuppressive action. The synthetic form of cortisol is “hydrocortisone” which is used to treat allergies and inflammation, as well as cortisol deficiencies.


Dopaminergic Fibers – The dopaminergic system is a chemical messenger system which consists of a collection of neurons that use the neurotransmitter dopamine.


Emotional Intelligence - Emotional Intelligence, also called EI refers to the individual’s ability to perceive, assess, and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others and of groups.  EI consists of five characteristics and abilities: Self-awareness; Mood management; Self-motivation; Empathy; and Relationship management.


Hypothalamus – The hypothalamus is located below the thalamus and just above the brain stem.  This gland is roughly the size of an almond and occupies a major portion of the ventral region of the diencephalon. The hypothalamus links the nervous system to the endocrine system via die pituitary gland (or hypophysis).  It regulates certain metabolic processes; autonomic activites; synthesizes and secretes neurohormones; and controls body temperature, circadian cycles, thirst, and hunger.  The hypothalamus is very well connected to the CNS (Central Nervous System), which include the brainstem reticular formation and autonomic zones, and the limbic forebrain (in particular the amygdala, septum, diagonal band of Broca, olfactory bulbs, and the higher cerebral cortex).


Intermediolateral Column of the Spinal Cord – The intermediolateral cell column of the spinal cord is found at vertebral levels C8 – L3 (according to Wikipedia it exists at vertebral levels T1 – L2). It mediates the entire sympathetic innervation of the body.


Mindful Meditation - Mindfulness means to bring the mind to focus on what is happening in the present moment, taking note of the mind’s running commentary, and then releasing any perceived judgments.  Any activity done mindfully is considered a form of meditation, making mindful meditation possible at any time.

Orbitofrontal Cortex – The orbitofrontal cortex is part of the prefrontal lobes and located above the orbits of the eyes.  It receives projections from the manocellular, medial nucleus of the mediodorsal thalamus.  It is involved in cognitive processes, such as decision making and plays a big role in reward and punishment functions, and therefore also in emotion.  The orbitofrontal cortex allows us to defer immediate gratification in order to obtain longterm benefits.  It varies considerably from individual to individual, as well as non-human primates.

Prefrontal Cortex - The prefrontal cortex is the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain.  It is located in front of the motor and premotor cortices.  It is divided into the orbitofrontal, medial, and lateral prefrontal areas. The prefrontal cortex is the executive center of the brain and its functions include abilities to differentiate between conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, defining goals, consequences of actions, predicting outcomes, expectations as defined by actions, impulse control, and is an integral link in how the individual’s personality is expressed.  The prefrontal cortex is highly interconnected with the brainstem’s Reticular Activating System (RAS – the center for arousal and motivation in animals) and the limbic system (involved in emotion, motivation, and the emotional association with memory) and acts as the guardian of anger, rage, aggression (fight/flight/freeze responses), panic, pain, pleasure control, and sexual responses.  When the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system is severed surgically (“psychosurgery” or a “prefrontal lobotomy”), patients become passive and completely lack motivation.


The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (BWP) - The BWP defines wisdom as “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life, permitting exceptional insight, judgment, and advice involving complex and uncertain matters of the human condition.”  The BWP was built in part on research using hypothetical vignettes to discern wise and unwise responses to life dilemmas. One vignette suggested: “A 15-year-old girl wants to get married right away, what should one/she consider and do?”


The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) - The WLS is a long-term study based on a random sample of 10,317 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high school is 1957. A companion sample contains comparable data for a randomly selected sibling of most respondents. The data collected includes social background, youthful aspirations, schooling, military service, labour market experiences, family characteristics and events, social participation, psychological characteristics, health and well-being, and retirement.  The WLS is supported by the Behavioral and Social Research Program of the National Institute on Aging.


Vectorial HemisphericityAccording to the theory of vectorial hemisphericity, as activity in one amygdala increases, the opposite amygdala’s activity decreases.





“Working with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman




Websites and Articles:


“The Older-and-Wiser Hypothesis” By STEPHEN S. HALL

Published: May 6, 2007 New York Times



“Brain Activity During Meditation”



“Yoga May Help Treat Depression, Anxiety Disorders” by E.J. Mundell



Dopaminergic Regulation of Inhibitory and Excitatory Transmission in the Basolateral AmygdalaPrefrontal Cortical Pathway” by Stan B. Floresco and Maric T. Tse

Department of Psychology and Brain Research Center, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4



“Amygdala-Prefrontal Cortical Circuitry Regulates Effort-Based Decision Making” by Stan B. Floresco 1 * and Sarvin Ghods-Sharifi 1

1 Department of Psychology and Brain Research Center, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada



“Serial pathways from primate prefrontal cortex to autonomic areas may influence emotional expression”  by Helen Barbas1 ,2 ,3 , Subhash Saha, Nancy Rempel-Clower  and Troy Ghashghaei
1Department of Health Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
2Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
3NEPRC, Harvard Medical School, Southborough, MA, USA


Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia



Marie-Louise Oosthuysen de Gutierrez is an Education Brain Researcher and Graphologist with a passionate interest in the brain and how it makes us what we are. She is an international brat who has lived and worked in South Africa, USA, and now Mexico. Comments (good and bad) on the article will be greatly appreciated.