Ways Your Brain Influences Your Emotions
Sadness from heartache, elation at finding a long-lost friend, anxiety before a job interview — you might like to think you’re completely in control of what you feel and that you understand what causes those feelings. But your brain can be sneaky sometimes.
A lot is going on inside your head, and your brain and its complex processes are even manipulating your emotions. In other words, there’s way more behind that angry feeling than the car that just cut you off. Much is involved in interpreting emotional circumstances and crafting your responses to them, and your brain is affecting how you feel and how you respond to those feelings in ways you’re probably not even aware of. This leads us to ask: What’s going on up there, and just how is your brain influencing your emotions? Keep reading to find out.
Brain Anatomy And Limbic System
The image on the left is a side view of the outside of the brain, showing the major lobes and the brain stem structures .
The image on the right is a side view showing the location of the limbic system inside the brain. The limbic system consists of a number of structures, including the fornix, hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, amygdala, the parahippocampal gyrus, and parts of the thalamus. The hippocampus is one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses, damage extends throughout the lobes.
Emotions Can Motivate You To Act
When faced with a nerve-wracking exam, you might feel a lot of anxiety about whether you will perform well and how the test will impact your final grade. Because of these emotional responses, you might be more likely to study.
Since you experienced a particular emotion, you had the motivation to take action and do something positive to improve your chances of getting a good grade.
You also tend to take certain actions in order to experience positive emotions and minimize the probability of feeling negative emotions. For example, you might seek out social activities or hobbies that provide you with a sense of happiness, contentment, and excitement. On the other hand, you would probably avoid situations that might potentially lead to boredom, sadness, or anxiety.
Emotions increase the likelihood that you will take an action. When you are angry, you are likely to confront the source of your irritation. When you experience fear, you are more likely to flee the threat. When you feel love, you might seek out a partner.
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Relation Of Hotec To Other Theories Of Emotion
A key aspect of our HOTEC is the HOR of the self simply put, no self, no emotion. HOROR, and especially self-HOROR, make possible a HOT of emotion in which self-awareness is a key part of the experience. In the case of fear, the awareness that it is you that is in danger is key to the experience of fear. You may also fear that harm will come to others in such a situation but, as argued above, such an experience is only an emotional experience because of your direct or empathic relation to these people.
One advantage of our theory is that the conscious experience of all emotions , and emotional and nonemotional states of consciousness, are all accounted for by one system . As such, elements of cognitive theories of consciousness by necessity contribute to HOTEC. Included implicitly or explicitly are cognitive processes that are key to other theories of consciousness, such as working memory , attention amplification , and reentrant processing .
Our theory of emotion, which has been in the making since the 1970s , shares some elements with other cognitive theories of emotion, such as those that emphasize processes that give rise to syntactic thoughts , or that appraise , interpret , attribute , and construct emotional experiences. Because these cognitive theories of emotion depend on the rerepresentation of lower-order information, they are higher-order in nature.
Anterior Temporal Lobe And Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex
According to a psychological constructionist account, networks supporting language should consistently show increased activity during instances of emotion experience and perception as linguistically-grounded concepts are brought to bear to make meaning of core affective feelings. In locationist accounts, language is thought to be epiphenomenal to discrete emotion , although recent behavioral studies show that categorical perception of discrete emotion is supported by language .
As compared to in other brain regions, voxels within the ATL did not have more consistent increases during instances of one emotion category than others . Our logistic regressions suggested that increased activity in the left ATL was more likely when participants were experiencing an instance of anger than any other emotion category, however . Instances of anger experience therefore involve areas throughout the left frontal and temporal lobes . Increased activity in the right ATL, on the other hand, was likely when participants were evaluating a stimulus . This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that language is brought to bear when constructing emotional percepts from exteroceptive sensations.
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Which Part Of The Brain Controls Anger
When it comes to anger and the brain, the process is not dissimilar to that of fear. In fact, the fight or flight response triggered by the hypothalamus is what causes us to be angry and can be our response to feeling fear.
The thalamus recognizes the potential threat, your amygdala produces your emotional response and stimulates the hypothalamus which initiates your physical response. It is also thought that the prefrontal cortex can impact our ability to regulate anger and put the brakes on when we feel ourselves getting fired up.
Where Do Emotions Come From
The limbic system is a group of interconnected structures located deep within the brain. Its the part of the brain thats responsible for behavioral and emotional responses.
Scientists havent reached an agreement about the full list of structures that make up the limbic system, but the following structures are generally accepted as part of the group:
- Hypothalamus. In addition to controlling emotional responses, the hypothalamus is also involved in sexual responses, hormone release, and regulating body temperature.
- Hippocampus. The hippocampus helps preserve and retrieve memories. It also plays a role in how you understand the spatial dimensions of your environment.
- Amygdala. The amygdala helps coordinate responses to things in your environment, especially those that trigger an emotional response. This structure plays an important role in fear and anger.
- Limbic cortex. This part contains two structures, the cingulate gyrus and the parahippocampal gyrus. Together, they impact mood, motivation, and judgement.
The Cerebral Cortex Creates Consciousness And Thinking
All animals have adapted to their environments by developing abilities that help them survive. Some animals have hard shells, others run extremely fast, and some have acute hearing. Human beings do not have any of these particular characteristics, but we do have one big advantage over other animals we are very, very smart.
You might think that we should be able to determine the intelligence of an animal by looking at the ratio of the animals brain weight to the weight of its entire body. But this does not really work. The elephants brain is one-thousandth of its weight, but the whales brain is only one ten-thousandth of its body weight. On the other hand, although the human brain is one-sixtieth of its body weight, the mouses brain represents one-fortieth of its body weight. Despite these comparisons, elephants do not seem 10 times smarter than whales, and humans definitely seem smarter than mice.
Your Brain’s Hemispheres Keep Your Emotions In Check
If you were to crack open your skull and take a look at the gray matter contained within it, you’d see that the brain appears to be divided into two equal-sized halves. These are your brain’s hemispheres and, while they work together to keep you functioning, they each take responsibility for processing different types of information. The left side of your brain thinks in concrete ways, such as the literal meaning of words and mathematical calculations, while the right side thinks in more abstract ways, such as symbolism and gestures .
Because the two sides of your brain process information differently, they work together to keep your emotions in check. Here’s an easy way to explain it: The right hemisphere identifies, and the left hemisphere interprets. The right brain identifies negative emotions, like fear, anger or danger. It then alerts the left brain, which decides what to do by interpreting the situation and making a logical decision about how to act in response.
It’s a great system, unless something happens and one side of the brain can’t do its job. Without the left brain, the right brain would be overcome with negative emotions and not know how to respond to them. And without the right brain, the left brain would not be as good at identifying negative emotions .
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So Do Emotions Come From The Heart Or The Brain
Most of us have the belief that the heart is responsible for feelings and emotions. So far much research has shown that feelings come only from the brain, specifically from the limbic cortex It has been enacted that this part of the brain is the one that controls our emotions, feelings, and physical reactions, thats why its called the emotional brain.
Studies define a critical link between the heart and the brain. The heart is in a constant two-way dialogue with the brain Our emotions change the signals that the brain sends to the heart, and the heart responds in complex ways.
At the same time, with its heartbeat language, it not only sends messages to the brain when its neurons detect that we need to balance, but it also activates its own resources to return to balance. It can even do it on its own, without our brain intervening.
Try On New Perspectives
According to the Theory of Constructed Emotion, the concepts we hold directly impact our body budgets, and therefore our experience of emotions. Concepts dont exist in an abstract, rarified realm separate from biology. Learning or changing concepts directly impacts how our body functions minute to minute.
This can include anything from travel in foreign countries, to spending time with different kinds of people, to reading literature, to trying new experiences. These experiences expose us to different ways of meeting human needs that we may want to borrow for ourselves.
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A New Take On Personal Responsibility
In light of the possibility that we construct our emotions based on concepts, the next question is, are we responsible for our concepts?
Not all of them, certainly. You cant choose the concepts you learned as a child. But as an adult, you absolutely do have choices about what experiences you expose yourself to, which shapes the concepts that ultimately drive your actions. Responsibility, in this view, is about making deliberate choices to change your concepts.
The Theory of Constructed Emotion argues that every aspect of our emotions is malleable and flexible. You are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits buried deep inside some ancient part of your brain. You have more control over your emotions than you think.
You cant just snap your fingers and instantaneously change what youre feeling, of course, but here are six practical steps you can take to improve your emotional granularity over time, based on the most recent findings from scientific research.
The Reticular Activating System
The reticular activating system is a network of neurons that runs through the core of the hindbrain and into the midbrain and forebrain. The RAS is made up of the midbrain reticular formation, the mesencephalic nucleus , the thalamic intralaminar nucleus , the dorsal hypothalamus, and the tegmentum.
The reticular activating system: The reticular activating system is involved in arousal and attention, sleep and wakefulness, and the control of reflexes.
The RAS is involved with arousal and attention, sleep and wakefulness, and the control of reflexes. The RAS is believed to first arouse the cortex and then maintain its wakefulness so that sensory information and emotion can be interpreted more effectively. It helps us fulfill goals by directing our concentration toward them and plays a role in individuals responses to situations and events.
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Different Parts Of Your Brain Are Responsible For Different Emotions
Your brain is made up of many different parts that all work together to process the information it receives. The main part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, the limbic system, is sometimes called the “emotional brain” .
Part of the limbic system, called the amygdala, assesses the emotional value of stimuli. It’s the main part of the brain associated with fear reactions — including the “fight or flight” response. A person who has a seizure in the temporal lobe sometimes reports an intense feeling of fear or danger .
The part of the brain stretching from the ventral tegmental area in the middle of the brain to the nucleus accumbens at the front of the brain, for example, has a huge concentration of dopamine receptors that make you feel pleasure . The hypothalamus is in charge of regulating how you respond to emotions. When excitement or fear causes your heart to beat faster, your blood pressure to rise and your breathing to quicken, it’s the hypothalamus doing its job. The hippocampus turns your short-term memory into long-term memory and also helps you retrieve stored memory . Your memories inform how you respond to the world around you, including what your emotional responses are.
Because different parts of the brain process different emotions in different ways, injury to any part of the brain can potentially change your moods and emotions.
Which Area Of The Brain Controls Emotions
The main area of the brain that is involved with emotions is called the limbic system. It is also responsible for our memories and arousal. All parts of the limbic system are connected through a variety of neural pathways. This part of the brain is what enables us to react to situations when we feel a certain way.
The limbic system, therefore, is the part of the brain that is thought to control our emotions and the brain functions that coincide with them. It is said to consist of four main parts:
- Hypothalamus: this part of the limbic system is responsible for regulating our body temperature, releasing hormones, and plays a key part in our emotions and our sex drive.
- Amygdala: the amygdala is what helps us to respond to emotions including anger, fear, sadness in order to protect us. The amygdala also retains memories of emotions experienced and when they occurred. This helps us to prepare when similar experiences happen in the future.
- Thalamus: the thalamus is where we detect and respond to our senses and is linked with the cerebrum which is where thinking and movement are triggered.
- Hippocampus: the hippocampus plays a key part in our retention and retrieval of memories.
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The Defensive Survival Circuit View
Defensive survival circuits are evolutionarily wired to detect and respond to innate threats and to respond to novel threats that have been learned about in the past . As viewed here, defensive survival circuits indirectly contribute to the feeling of fear, but their activity does not constitute fear. The amygdala-centered circuit described above is an example of such a defensive survival circuit. illustrates the defensive survival circuit view, relative to the fear circuit view, of amygdala contributions to threat processing.
How, then, does the conscious experiences of fear come about, if not as the product of an innate subcortical circuit? We argue below that fear results from the cognitive interpretation that you are in a dangerous situation, one in which physical or psychological harm may come to you. As such, an emotional experience like fear comes about much the same as any other conscious experience: as a result of processing by the GNC. However, these circuits process different inputs in emotional vs. nonemotional conscious experiences, and in different kinds of emotional experiences.
Feelings Are Based On Reasoning Emotions Are Not
SUMMARYWhat you are feeling is based on certain reasoning that has convinced your brain. But the emotions that you exhibit are more innate and in most cases pre-defined by your genetic make-up.
Have you heard about the limbic system? It is one of the most primitive parts of the brain and this is where your emotions come from. Since emotions are governed by your genetic make-up, there is an upper limit on the number that you can exhibit.
But feelings are associated with the frontal lobe which means there is no upper limit to the number of feelings that a person has. To further clarify this divide, you can consider feelings to be your response based on your interpretation of the event. On the other hand, emotions are like an automated response of the nervous system response.
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What Happens During An Emotion
When an emotion is triggered, what actually happens? Scientists have learned that an emotional reaction actually has many different parts . One part of an emotional reaction is that the brain changes whats happening in the body. For example, when you are afraid or angry, you might feel your heart start to pound and your lungs might start breathing faster. Or, when you are sad, you might get tears in your eyes. Emotions can also cause some muscles in your body to move automatically. For example, during happiness you might smile, your voice might sound more excited, and you might stand up a bit tallerand you might not even notice youre doing these things.
Another part of an emotional reaction is that you start to think differently. For example, scientists have found that when people are sad they usually think of sad memories, but when people are happy they usually think of happy memories. As another example, when people are scared they usually start looking for other dangers in their surroundings, and they are more likely to have thoughts about other scary things. On the other hand, when people are happy, they usually notice more things that they like as they go through the day.