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Description: You probably heard about the important role that the adrenal medulla plays in our bodies rapid responses to stressful situations, usually referred to as the fight flight response. What you may not be entirely clear on is how that area of the brain gets fired up or more specifically how that part of the brain is networked into other processing regions in the brain. Research described in the link below at the University of Pittsburgh and began to show just how complex the array of interconnections are between the higher centres of the brain in this particular center that can move our bodies rapidly into almost explosive action. Understanding these connections will have implications but just for the fight flight response but for a broad range of other human characteristics.

Source: New insights into how the mind influences the body, University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, Science News.

Date: August 15, 2016

Mind body

Photo Credit: Ilhedgehogll/Fotolia

Links:  Article Link —

When you heard about the fight flight response as part of an introductory psychology course it was most likely described as a set of response patterns that humans engage in when under stress. However, there was likely very little discussion of how the area of the brain that drives this fight flight response, the adrenal medulla, is interconnected with higher brain centres. Researchers conducting the study described in the link above indicated surprise at the number of neural networks they uncovered which link into to the adrenal medulla. Specifically this complexity of interconnections helps to account for how it is that we are often able to think before we act and consequently not react, potentially violently, when someone places his in a stressful situation. Some of the connections also help us to begin to better understand some things that we’ve known but not fully understood quite some time. For example the connections between the adrenal medulla in areas of the cerebral cortex involved in the planning and performance of movement may help us to account for why core body exercises are so helpful to us in moderating our responses to stress. Further, areas of the cortex that are active when we sense conflict or become aware of the fact that we may have made an error are also connected to the adrenal medulla and may actually put some truth into the phrase that we “beat up on ourselves” when we reflect or focus upon previous errors we have made. Finally there also connections between the adrenal medulla and areas in the cortex that become activated during meditation and that show changes in cases of bipolar depression which may help to account for the previously observed link between stress and depression as well as help account for the potentially positive effects of mindfully focused cognitive behavioural therapy on the symptoms of depression.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the primary role played by the adrenal medulla in human functioning?
  2. Why might it be important to discover and understand the potentially broad array of connections between the adrenal medulla and higher cortical processing centres?
  3. What are some of the reasons that it might be important to think about the bidirectional nature of influence between higher cortical regions and the adrenal medulla?

References (Read Further):

Richard P. Dum, David J. Levinthal, Peter L. Strick. Motor, cognitive, and affective areas of the cerebral cortex influence the adrenal medulla. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201605044 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1605044113


Ogden, P., & Minton, K. (2000). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: One method for processing traumatic memory. Traumatology, 6(3), 149.


Gunnar, M., & Quevedo, K. (2007). The neurobiology of stress and development. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 58, 145-173.