How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The Amygdala Bypass System
When we say 'I didn't think, I just reacted' we may be exactly right. A little thing called the Amygdala that controls our fear responses can stop us from thinking.
All sensory data (except, curiously, for the sense of smell) is sent by the body first to the Thalamus, which acts like a switchboard, sending it to the relevant part of the brain.
The thalamus sends the data both to the relevant part of the cortex and also to a small part of the mid-brain called the amygdala.
When the information is sent to the cortex, we, of course, think about it. The problem is, that sometimes there is no time to think -- in fact too much thinking can sometimes leave you dead.
The senses are compared in the amydala with our stored fear responses. If any of these are triggered, then the amygdala has to act quickly.
If the fear response is triggered, then the amygdala floods the cortex with chemicals to stop it taking over.
The result is that we act without conscious thought. We jump out of the way of a falling branch or dive into the river to save a child.
You can get people to act by giving them a sudden and deep shock. Sometimes this shock treatment that leads to unthinking responses can be useful in the way that it causes the person to reflect afterwards. Of course anything like this must be done with due caution and deep understanding.
Carter, Rita (2000), Mapping the Mind, University of California Press