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I've been reading a lot about emotional responses lately, and the following points seem to surface in different writings:

"Amygdala is a very ancient system, intended to quickly alert a person of danger".

At the same time, we have a part of our consciousness, where thoughts of danger, lack or negativity towards others may arise. I've seen spiritual/personal development writers attribute these thoughts to the function of the ego. I'm not sure if they are using the term correctly, as they have a mostly negative perception of the ego, as something that strives to dominate cognition and act out of fearful/selfish desires. Here's a description from wikipedia:

The ego is the organized part of the personality structure that includes defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions.

I'm trying to understand - Is person's ego a projection of the responses of their amygdala onto the conscious experience?

I've looked around and see some bloggers like this one make a claim that the amygdala and the ego are one and the same. Is this true?

To clarify my question - I'm seeking to understand if there's a structure/process in cognition that integrates input from various "lower mammal brain" structures and translates them into thoughts?

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  • $\begingroup$ Not voting to close as I'm not sure I fully understand the question, but it sounds an awful lot like this one: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/546/… $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Jul 28 '15 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ That question sounds related, although that user is asking about the process that happens after a decision has been made. I'm asking about a specific part of the brain that may be active while conscious experience is altered. $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Jul 29 '15 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any scientific research (bloggers don't count) that you can point to, which might help understand the direction of the answer you are looking for? $\endgroup$ – theMayer Aug 13 '15 at 20:50
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Assuming your question is "Is person's ego a projection of the responses of their amygdala onto the conscious experience?", I think it would translate to "Does the amygdala determines or houses the ego". In that light, the question hinges on the meaning of ego. Given the question is asked at Cognitive Sciences SE, I assume the ego is "The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity". In that case I would say no, the amygdala is not involved in the ego.

Generally, the amygdala is considered to be an essential part of the limbic system. The limbic system controls the core emotions (fear, pleasure, anger) and drives behaviors essential to life (hunger, sex, and the care of offspring). The functions of the amygdala are indeed mainly associated with emotions, but also with learning and memory (Martin & Hans, 1985). A notable example is post-traumatic stress disorder (Shin et al., 2006), where it mediates imprinting of memories through fear.

However, the amygdala definitely shapes "the self". Given the Latin meaning of "ego" (literally, "I") one could definitely argue for an essential role of the amygdala in the ego. In that context, though, arguably every single part of the brain at the macroscopic level is an essential part of the ego.

PS: the 'blog' you linked is an advertisement for the services of Sara Harvey, a personal coach for folks with executive functions. Not the most reliable source of information.

References
- Martin & Hans, Behav Neurosci (1985); 99(2):342-80
- Shin et al., Ann NY Acad Sci (2006); 1071: 67–7

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, the blog link is an extreme example of people making pseudo scientific claims :) $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Aug 13 '15 at 17:22
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I believe an overactive amygdala certainly plays a pivitol role defines ones ego. As the amygdala is part of the limbic system. An overactive limbic system has been linked to depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.

While I do believe the amygdala does play a small part in defining the ego, I believe other parts of the limbic system, play a significant role in the overall definition of the ego. Having a strong active frontal cortex also helps the person logically define their "ego" or who they are as a person.

So the correct answer is No, the ego should not be defined as conscious experiences projected simply by the amygdala. Other parts of the brain play a significant part in defining ones "ego."

David Lopez Blass

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    $\begingroup$ adding references would improve this answer. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Aug 14 '15 at 1:18

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