Approaches to the amygdala by the medical and veterinary professions

Professor Terence Ryan discusses the range of stimuli which can be picked up by the forebrain and directed to the amygdala, suggesting how they might be used as therapeutic interventions by both the medical and veterinary professions. 

The forebrain receives many stimuli which it passes on to the amygdala known as the emotional centre. It is a pathway that can be used for therapy so it is worth understanding how it may be best activated. The carer can employ sympathy, empathy, compassion, kindness, ensure the preservation of dignity, bring cheer and joy, or be a friend. Each of these  expresses a different quality or characteristic of care. .Recently the Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology ,which has long recommended the practice of  hugging as a therapeutic intervention acting through the amygdala, said friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well being and happiness (please eee recent PMJ editorial on Friendship). It is worthwhile investigating how one learns to use friendship to have  such a valuable influence on those in need. Once learned, it can be used for children through their communication that includes toys and pets. Anthropologists have taught us how ancestor worship, spirits, Gods, landscape such as Ayres Rock, sacred groves and sources of water can speak to us and influence belief and practice.

We have five senses (sight, hearing ,smell, taste and touch), and each one is used in a variety of ways separately or in combination. They become part of our education system, husbandry and horticulture. They can be missing during the social distancing of COVID-19,  imprisonment and caging. Their value was missed in the ancient practice of isolation of those suffering from leprosy.

Isolation has been recently reconsidered as harmful to health, well being and happiness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, closure of meeting places, social distancing and masking has perhaps accounted for more mental illnesses. It was quite depressing to experience some centres of shut down, and then suddenly all over the UK there were vaccination centres, usually bright, light and cheerful, filled with smiling welcoming faces.

Even a large organisation such as the National Health Service has given attention to the value of healing environments, and this author did a study with Thorn Electric in the John Radcliffe at Oxford, which showed the diagnostic acumen of dermatologists was affected not just by light but by space/the size of the room. Another study on gardens which included restoring the skills associated with it to help the unemployed teaplanting tribal people of South India and the post-genocide peoples of Rwanda .( Ryan TJ, Matts Pj, Snyder B,OrrV (2014) A Seminar on gardens for health of the skin. International  J Dermatology 53 593-600)

But it is not just humans that have been studied. Organic farming has examined overcrowding of both birds ,fish and plants. COVID-19 caused debate on the overcrowding and caging of animals in Wuhan markets. Anxiety states in such circumstances diminish immunity to viruses and strengthen their power to disseminate.

The United Nations has recently awarded a charity for its efforts to tackle cruelty to animals in Asia. Named Actasia, with offices in Taiwan, China, Australia, UK, Nederlands and the USA, it launched a programme (ICARE) at a conference in Oxford in 2019, celebrating Sir William Osler (the founder of this journal who was noted for his friendship). It focuses on humane education in primary schools and teaches children friendship  of each other, of animals the frail elderly and the disabled. Actasia began to introduce in Asia veterinary services with, as in the UK a stronger than before, focus on  domestic animals. The London College of Fashion has helped Actasia to  eliminate cruelty in the fur industry by reducing the fashionableness of fur in Shanghai Fashion Shows. Children are now much more aware of the problems arising from the caging of wild animals in the food industry and as pets. They are more likely to protest when their parents buy ivory. The joint approach of enhancing care of the Medical and Veterinary professions with a programme of humane education in primary schools was based on programme from the science and education devisions in UNESCO.

In Pakistan Join Hands ( another charity present at the launching of ICARE in Oxford with a similar humane education programme in primary schools. Here donkeys, numerous and extremely hard working, were until recently without a  strong and kindly veterinary service for domestic animals. Children are encouraged to understand donkey’s intelligent (stubborn) questioning of what they are instructed to do.

Professor Terence Ryan is an Emeritus Fellow of Green Templeton College and Emeritus Professor of Dermatology, University of Oxford.

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