Neuroscience and sensitivity – our superior colliculus and amygdala

A news item by ScienceDaily reported on research that may explain more about the neuroscience that underlies high sensitivity.

brainscan“Researchers have discovered that a primitive region of the brain responsible for sensorimotor control also has an important role in regulating emotional responses to threatening situations.

“This region appears to work in concert with another structure called the amygdala to regulate social and emotional behavior.”

The story continues, “Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have recently discovered that activation of a primitive brain region, the deep layers of superior colliculus (DLSC), elicits defensive behaviors such as an exaggerated startle, hypervigilance, cowering, and escape…. in addition to triggering defensive behaviors, the activation of DLSC leads to a decrease in affiliative social interactions.”

Like mainstream media – and probably psychiatry in general – this news story was framed in terms of dysfunction: “Researchers say it is possible that a prolonged activation of this defense system may lead to emotional disorders” including post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

[From Two Brain Structures Key To Emotional Balance Especially In Threatening Situations, ScienceDaily Oct. 23, 2009.]

As we know who have one, a highly sensitive nervous system is not a “disorder.”

Ashley JuddBut that does not mean there can be very real medical and mental health issues that may be increased with high sensitivity, such as anxiety, and PTSD – which can include very disruptive or disabling behaviors, emotions, and another kind of over-activation of the nervous system: hypervigilance.

That is something actor Ashley Judd experienced.

She had a “very unsafe” and disruptive childhood, and became what she calls a “hypervigilant child.”

From post Developing creativity: hypervigilance and highly sensitive people

Related post: Highly sensitive people: latent inhibition and creativity

More neuroscience articles


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Originally posted 2009-10-28 19:54:43.


  1. I Know You

    I see you
    your eyes pleading
    your wind-driven soul
    your pain

    I hear you
    your heaving sighs
    your constricted voice
    your silent cries

    I know you
    how your tears
    fall behind your eyes
    how your resilient face
    hides pain

    That look
    that smile
    those eyes

    I know your soul
    beneath that outward glow
    how it struggles to breathe

    to live
    to love

    I salute you kindred soul

  2. I was a hyper-vigilant child who lived with a gestapo-like mother. I became a hyper-vigilant adult who catered to the needs of others in order to survive. Now I am, or am trying to be, my true self.

    I used creative/therapeutic writing as a tool to understand the confusing, contradictory world I lived in as a child. I am amazed at how the brain can work to protect a person and help them to heal.

    I am glad that research is being done on this subject. I know there are many people out there like me. My heart goes out to them. I know their pain.

What do you think of this topic?