What Part Of The Brain Controls Emotions?

From time immemorial we have blamed the heart for our deepest feelings, holding the brain responsible for the most sensible and judicious decisions. Well then, it’s time to fix this terrible mistake. The truth is that the brain is the organ that is behind all our emotions.

In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’What Part Of The Brain Controls Emotions?’’ We will explain what emotions are and how the brain intervenes in their formation and interpretation.

What Part Of The Brain Controls Emotions?

The part of the brain that controls emotions is  the limbic system. The limbic system affects everything related to pleasure, in its most basic definition. For example, when it comes to having sex or enjoying a delicious meal.

Emotions give us humanity, and although we often make the mistake of classifying them into negative and positive emotions, they are all necessary and valuable. After all, they fulfill an adaptive function and nothing can be as important as understanding them in order to use them “intelligently” to our benefit.

The limbic system is known as the emotional brain. But, is the term emotional brain totally correct? What are the components of the Limbic System today? Is its functioning so important? If you keep reading, you will find the answers to these questions!

What’s the limbic system?

The limbic system is made up of a set of brain structures that are considered very primitive in evolutionary terms, located in the upper part of the brain stem, below the cortex. 

It is a network of neurons located in the brain that directly affects human behavior, due to its great influence on moods. 

These structures are those that are fundamentally involved in the development of many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those related to survival such as fear, anger and emotions related to sexual behavior. 

Fear, joy, sadness, anger … All the feelings that we experience in our day to day have a neurological basis in this network. 

On the other hand, everything related to the basic sensations of pleasure that occurs when eating or when we practice sex is also directed from this system. 

In the same way, our emotions affect other fields of action of the human being, such as concentration or learning. When we feel sad or worried, our ability to focus on an important task becomes more difficult, right? Well, the limbic system is to blame for it.

Parts of the limbic system 

Within all the complexity of the limbic system, we find certain very important structures involved with memory: the amygdala and the hippocampus.

The hypothalamus and hippocampus are involved in creating emotions.

This network of neurons is complemented by other parts of the brain close to the limbic system. The hypothalamus and hippocampus are two of the most important. 

The first is responsible for releasing all the resulting hormones by the body, while the second controls the mental processes related to memory. 

This also allows us to remember and memorize the most transcendental experiences of our existence, those that will later influence the mode of action. 

The hippocampus will be in charge of sending these memories to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere that will store them in the long term, so that they are later retrieved when necessary, for example, when we do an exam.

Likewise, the hypothalamus plays a vital role in the regulation of body temperature, the adrenal glands and the pituitary, among many other activities, such as the regulation of hormones, which on many occasions notably mark our behavior and our social projection.

Therefore, it has been found that any damage to the latter structure can result in an inability to form new memories. The anterior part of the brain, known as the diencephalon, is also included in this complex limbic system and contains the thalamus, another very significant structure

The thalamus

The thalamus, while more involved in perception and regulation of movement, also connects with other parts of the brain and spinal cord, which play an essential role in sensations.

The tonsils are related to the emotional response of the individual.

The amygdala

The amygdala is also part of this process, as it is linked to the emotional response that certain situations arouse. The amygdala is also responsible for determining which memories are stored and where in the brain they will be stored. 

And finally, the orbitofrontal cortex. Send the emotional orders to the frontal lobe, the one in charge of planning our actions. However, this is not its most important role, but it also assumes the responsibility of stopping the irrational impulses that humans often regret.

The amygdala is also part of this process and of the limbic system, as it is linked to the emotional response aroused by the situations experienced. 

The amygdala is, therefore, the main control nucleus of emotions and feelings in the brain, also controlling the responses of satisfaction or fear. It is a complex structure, being an almond-shaped structure located in the limbic system of the brain. 

On the other hand, the orbitofrontal cortex, which sends emotional orders to the frontal lobe, is in charge of planning our actions once we receive an emotional impulse. However, this is not his most important role, but he also takes responsibility for stopping the irrational urges that humans sometimes regret.

The thalamus, while more involved in perception and regulation of movement, also connects with other parts of the brain and spinal cord, which play an essential role in sensations.

Likewise, the hypothalamus plays a vital role in the regulation of body temperature, the adrenal glands and the pituitary, among many other activities, such as the regulation of hormones, which on many occasions notably mark our behavior and our social projection.

The prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex is located in the front half of the brain. It is responsible for our focus, planning, impulse control, emotional control, empathy, judgment, and insight. 

Healthy activity in the prefrontal cortex leads to awareness, thoughtfulness, and a goal-oriented personality. If the prefrontal cortex has little activity, it can make a person disorganized, easily distracted, and sometimes antisocial. 

On the other hand, if the prefrontal cortex is overworked, it can cause anxiety, inflexibility, and impulsiveness.

The anterior cingulate gyrus 

The anterior cingulate gyrus is in the medial area of the brain and runs longitudinally through the frontal lobes. It is the part of the brain that makes humans flexible and capable of perceiving choices in life. 

That is why it is sometimes called the “brain gearshift”. People with healthy activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus are generally cooperative and more adaptable to change.

People with anterior cingulate gyrus imbalance, on the other hand, generally worry too much about the future, hold a grudge about things in the past, and feel insecure in the world. Some serious psychiatric disorders associated with abnormal anterior cingulate gyrus activity include obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and addictive disorders.

Basal ganglia 

The basal ganglia are a large set of nuclei that surround the deep limbic system. Its main task is to integrate movements, feelings and thoughts. In other words, they are the parts of the brain that make you jump when you are surprised and freeze when you are in shock. 

Low basal ganglia activity can lead to movement disorders and low motivation, while high basal ganglia activity generally causes anxiety, work addiction, and muscle tension. The basal ganglia are also involved with the sensation of pleasure or ecstasy. That is why certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine, affect blood glucose more.

Temporal lobes 

The temporal lobes are below the temples and behind the eyes. They control memory, language learning, object recognition, and mood stability. 

Problems in the temporal lobes, especially on the left side, generally lead to temperament problems, aggression, and severe depression. 

On the other hand, high activity in the right temporal lobes can result in heightened sensory perception or an extreme sense of intuition, making certain people more religious than others.

In short, the limbic system is the part of our brain where our emotions and feelings are mainly formed, where we store all the good and bad memories of our life and the one that governs our sensory perception among other functions of great importance.

FAQS: What part of the brain controls emotions?

How are emotions generated in the brain? 

The anatomy and the physiological and neurochemical circuit that generates emotions. … In parallel, brain areas related to the release of dopamine, the most important neurotransmitter for generating an emotion, are activated; These areas are two brain nuclei: the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens.

What is the part of the brain that controls fear? 

In recent years, the study of the neurobiological bases of fear has focused on a specific brain region: the amygdala, a small structure housed within the limbic system (our “emotional brain”). This area plays a key role in finding and detecting danger signs. 

What is the relationship between the nervous system and emotions? 

Emotion involves the entire nervous system. But there are two parts of the nervous system that are especially important: The limbic system and the autonomic nervous system. The limbic system is a complex set of structures found above and around the thalamus, and just below the cortex.

What happens when the amygdala is activated? 

From what we know so far, the amygdala is a kind of emergency button in our brain. If we are threatened by imminent danger, this nucleus activates a signal that it immediately forwards to the rest of the body. 

Why do the nervous and endocrine systems allow us to regulate our emotions? 

The nervous and endocrine systems allow us to regulate our emotions because they are two systems that are in charge of controlling the different glands that secrete substances that modify our state of mind, thus generating different emotions.

In this article we answered the question ‘’What Part Of The Brain Controls Emotions?’’ We explained what emotions are and how the brain intervenes in their formation and interpretation.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!

References

LeDoux, E. (1994) Emotion, Memory and the Brain. (Vol.270) USA. Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc.

Dalgleish, T. & Power, M (2000)  Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. (vol 2) USA. Other Wiley Editorial Offices. 

Rolls, E. (2005) Emotion Explained. USA. Oxford University Press.

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