The human brain is incredibly complex. Neuroscientists are still uncovering hidden depths to this intriguing organ. and there is still a lot that we don’t know about it. However, what we do know about the brain, and the part of it that deals with recognizing and controlling your body’s reaction to emotions is incredibly fascinating.
In this post, we look at our brain and emotions and what different reactions occur in our heads when we feel anger, fear or love.
Why do we have emotions?
When it comes to discussing the way our brain processes emotions, a helpful starting point is looking at why we have emotions in the first place. Essentially, emotions help us to survive and exist thanks to evolution. They act as triggers to help us to react to situations that may cause us harm.
Feeling anger triggers a response of being ready to fight. When we feel fear, we try to get ourselves out of the situation we’re in. On the other hand, feeling happiness can motivate us to pursue the activity that made us feel like that.
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.
Which part of the brain controls fear?
The emotion of fear is an evolutionary response that helps us to survive. While most of us are no longer living in the wild we still need to feel fear to keep ourselves safe. Fear triggers a chain reaction and involves multiple parts of the brain.
First of all, your thalamus uses sensory data to pick up on what you are witnessing/experiencing. This then passes through the sensory cortex which interprets the data and your hippocampus draws on memories to establish the context and how the body needs to react. Your amygdala then decodes these emotions and establishes whether a threat has occurred, this then stimulates the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus then triggers what many of us know as the ‘fight or flight’ response. When you feel fear, you will often find that you have a physical reaction. This could be your hair standing on end and your heart pumping in your chest. This is triggered by the hypothalamus and gets you ready to react.
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.
Which part of the brain controls love?
While love is a favorable emotion to feel, we can all admit that it is accompanied by some pretty unpleasant emotions. Nerves and excitement are both physical responses we feel when we see someone we love. These are triggered by the hypothalamus, which releases a mixture of hormones that are associated with the reward circuit. These produce reactions such as sweaty hands, pink cheeks, a racing heart, as well as feelings of anxiety and passion.
When we are in love, our brain also produces the chemical dopamine. This is what makes love a desirable experience. The other hormones our brain produces when we experience romantic love are oxytocin (triggered by skin-to-skin contact), which encourages attachment and vasopressin, which is connected with social bonding.
Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’ as it triggers feelings of security, calmness, and contentment that help us to feel connected with a potential mate.
Emotional processing is a complex field. How our brain deals with emotions is far beyond the scope of this article. The incredibly complicated chemical processes that are occurring in your brain when you experience certain emotions are fascinating.
It can help you to understand why your body reacts in a certain way. As well as how our emotions are trying to protect us. We hope we’ve whetted your appetite and that this marks the beginning of a fascination with neuroscience!
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