Whats The Limbic System
As mentioned earlier, the brain controls emotions. More precisely, the limbic system is a set of structures located deep inside the brain that are important for emotions, memory, behavior, and motivation.
When discussing the most common brain parts that control the emotional side, terms like the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus come right to mind. Lets dig deeper into the function of each part.
Creating Brain Characters A Strategy Used By Child Psychologists To Help Children Understand And Manage Emotions
Help kids come up with their own names for characters in the brain. It doesnt matter what they are called as long as both you and your child know who you are referring to and what they do . You can share stories about the brain characters and their antics based on real life experiences of both your child and yourself, e.g. Remember when Big Boss Bootsy took over and made you hit your brother before you even had time to think? Or I think Alerting Allie and Big Boss Bootsy made Mummy feel cranky this morning when we were running late for school. Lucky Calming Carl was able to settle things down before they flipped my lid!
Using the brain house and its character inhabitants helps kids talk about their emotions and related behaviors in a non-judgemental, no blame, fun way because it separates their feelings, thoughts and behaviors from the child. Some parents raise concerns about kids using this as an excuse for their behaviors, and not taking responsibility for their actions. If we jump straight into consequences though, we are trying to reason with the rational brain of our child, whereas they are perceiving our response as a threat and functioning from the emotional brain, with a huge likelihood that the stairway has been blocked and all rational thoughts locked in.
To know more about behavior and emotions you can visit: www.changespsychology.com.au
Deak, J. . Your Fantastic Elastic Brain Stretch it, shape it. Little Pickle Press LLC, Belvedere CA.
What Part Of The Brain Controls Emotions: The Science Behind It
Its safe to say that the brain is one of the most complex organs in our body. Apart from processing thoughts and actions, the brain can feel a range of emotionsfrom happiness to sadness, from fear to anger, and from love to hate.
Lets dig deeper into this article to understand what part of the brain controls our emotions and the functions of each region of the brain. What triggers a specific emotion? How do these brain regions work together?
Learn in This Article
- Why Do People Have Emotions
- Whats the Limbic System
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Lobes Of The Brain And What They Control
Each brain hemisphere has four sections, called lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. Each lobe controls specific functions.
- Frontal lobe. The largest lobe of the brain, located in the front of the head, the frontal lobe is involved in personality characteristics, decision-making and movement. Recognition of smell usually involves parts of the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe contains Brocas area, which is associated with speech ability.
- Parietal lobe. The middle part of the brain, the parietal lobe helps a person identify objects and understand spatial relationships . The parietal lobe is also involved in interpreting pain and touch in the body. The parietal lobe houses Wernickes area, which helps the brain understand spoken language.
- Occipital lobe. The occipital lobe is the back part of the brain that is involved with vision.
- Temporal lobe. The sides of the brain, temporal lobes are involved in short-term memory, speech, musical rhythm and some degree of smell recognition.
The Hypothalamus Coordinates Peripheral Input
The hypothalamus acts on the autonomic nervous system by influencing visceral reflexes that are mainly controlled within the brainstem .
The importance of the hypothalamus for visceral reflexes was first demonstrated by Stephen Ranson in the 1930s. He placed electrodes in various areas of the hypothalamus and by stimulating these areas he was able to create almost every autonomic reflex including changes in heart rate, blood pressure and bowel motility.
His work was further refined by Walter Hess in the following decade. Both these researchers gave the experimental basis for concluding that the hypothalamus was central for coordinating visceral reflexes.Hess also showed that stimulating various sites within the hypothalamus could give rise to the autonomic responses associated with various emotions such as anger. He postulated that the hypothalamus was responsible for coordinating the peripheral responses to emotional states. An idea that is supported by experiments where lesions in discrete hypothalamic regions create animals with absent or exaggerated emotional states, depending on the site of the destruction.
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Emotion Regulation Without A Mature Prefrontal Cortex
Taken together, non-human and human research has established that the young animal does not use the mPFC for emotion regulation in the way that the mature one does. Nonetheless, young animals can exhibit regulated emotional behavior. So how is the young animal accomplishing this task?
While the infant rat displays some forms of emotion regulation , the nature of the behavior is starkly different from the adult.47 For an animal dependent on an adult for survival, there is a species-expectation that the attachment figure will be available. This caregiver can serve as an external social regulator at a time of mPFC immaturity. Indeed, the behavioral literature has noted across decades of empirical work that the young child relies on the parent in just this way, using various strategies.
A common example is social referencing.49-51 Children routinely look to the parent for guidance in navigating the emotional and physical landscape. Social referencing is a powerful means of regulating emotions and has been used to explain the intergenerational transmission of emotional knowledge, including the transmission of anxious behaviors and reactions52,53
What Happens In The Brain When Emotion Processing Fails
Because we are interested in how the brain processes and regulates emotions, we do a lot of work with children who can successfully handle their emotions. We also invite children who struggle with emotion processing and regulation to see whether their brain structure and function looks any different from the children who do not have trouble with emotion processing. So far, there have been several small studies, suggesting that there are differences in brain function and structure in children with aggressive behavior . But, as our MRI section describes, there are challenges when doing research studies with younger participants. For example, it is very hard for children to stay very still while the MRI takes pictures . Because of this, most studies have a very small number of participants, and the results are not as clear. A method called meta-analysis helps to summarize the information from all of these very important small studies. Meta-analysis takes the results of many studies and combines them into one big finding. For example, we have combined all small studies done so far in children and teenagers with aggressive behavior . While each study had a maximum size of about 40 participants, combining all of them into one meta-analysis allowed us to look at over 500 children at once. By doing so, we were able to show changes in both brain structure and brain activity in the emotion processing network in aggressive teenagers .
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How Does The Brain Work
The brain sends and receives chemical and electrical signals throughout the body. Different signals control different processes, and your brain interprets each. Some make you feel tired, for example, while others make you feel pain.
Some messages are kept within the brain, while others are relayed through the spine and across the bodys vast network of nerves to distant extremities. To do this, the central nervous system relies on billions of neurons .
Conflict Of Interest Statement
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Raschle, N. M., Lee, M., Buechler, R., Christodoulou, J. A., Chang, M., Vakil, M., et al. 2009. Making MR imaging childs play pediatric neuroimaging protocol, guidelines and procedure. J. Vis. Exp. doi:10.3791/1309
Phan, K. L., Wager, T., Taylor, S. F., and Liberzon, I. 2002. Functional neuroanatomy of emotion: a meta-analysis of emotion activation studies in PET and fMRI. Neuroimage 16:33148. doi:10.1006/nimg.2002.1087
Sterzer, P., Stadler, C., Poustka, F., and Kleinschmidt, A. 2007. A structural neural deficit in adolescents with conduct disorder and its association with lack of empathy. Neuroimage 37:33542. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.04.043
Raschle, N. M., Menks, W. M., Fehlbaum, L. V., Tshomba, E., and Stadler, C. 2015. Structural and functional alterations in right dorsomedial prefrontal and left insular cortex co-localize in adolescents with aggressive behaviour: an ALE meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 10:e0136553. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136553
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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 Amygdala And Its Role In Pleasure
As Fred Lichtigfeld and I concluded from our work in the early 1980s, pain and pleasure,,are each situated at opposite ends of a continuum, with a neutral point midway where neither pain nor pleasure occurs.
Our work on alcoholism, substance abuse and other appetitive states also indicated that the self-same antagonistic opioid systems mediating pain and pleasure were involved in addictionand other appetitive states. , The idea that the opioids are involved in both pain and pleasure has since become widely accepted by leading researchers. ,, , Apart from our own research, the concept that appetitive drives exist on a continuum between pain and pleasure finds support from research on the amygdala . The amygdala has opioid receptors that work in opposite directions one group of receptors enhancing and the other decreasing taste liking.
As a result, sometime after our observations, it is probably of no surprise that research links the amygdala to both aversive as well as pleasurable emotional states. And more research, which gives even stronger support for our earlier work, shows that there is a similar arrangement in the orbitofrontal cortex, which works closely with the amygdala to interpret positive and negative emotional states with one group of neurons responding more vigorously to rewarding stimuli and another set more strongly to aversive stimuli.
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The Brain Is Flexible: Neuroplasticity
The control of some specific bodily functions, such as movement, vision, and hearing, is performed in specified areas of the cortex, and if these areas are damaged, the individual will likely lose the ability to perform the corresponding function. For instance, if an infant suffers damage to facial recognition areas in the temporal lobe, it is likely that he or she will never be able to recognize faces . On the other hand, the brain is not divided up in an entirely rigid way. The brains neurons have a remarkable capacity to reorganize and extend themselves to carry out particular functions in response to the needs of the organism and to repair damage. As a result, the brain constantly creates new neural communication routes and rewires existing ones. Neuroplasticity refers to the brains ability to change its structure and function in response to experience or damage. Neuroplasticity enables us to learn and remember new things and adjust to new experiences.
Although neurons cannot repair or regenerate themselves as skin or blood vessels can, new evidence suggests that the brain can engage in neurogenesis, the forming of new neurons . These new neurons originate deep in the brain and may then migrate to other brain areas, where they form new connections with other neurons . This leaves open the possibility that someday scientists might be able to rebuild damaged brains by creating drugs that help grow neurons.
The Parts Of The Brain That Effect Our Psychology Emotions And Behaviors
The brain is the most important and complex organ in our bodies. You dont have to be a brain specialist though to appreciate some of the basics about the brains role in emotions and behaviors in both ourselves and our children.
The brain is compartmentalised for our understanding but in reality all the parts work in complex, intertwined ways. The largest section of the brain and closest to the surface is the Cerebrum or Cortex. This is often broken down into lobes or sections of the brain: the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobes, and occipital lobe. The frontal lobe is at the front of the head and is responsible for planning, organisation, logical thinking, reasoning, and managing emotions. This is the part you will hear about most regarding the expression and regulation of emotions and behaviors. It is also known as the higher brain, rational brain, or the upstairs brain.
Ok, now we are familiar with some of the major parts of the brain involved in behaviours and emotions we can look at how they interact with each other and influence behaviors through development, how we can help our kids understand what is happening, and what we can do to help our kids to better manage behaviors and emotions.
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Functions Of The Cortex
When the German physicists Gustav Fritsch and Eduard Hitzig applied mild electric stimulation to different parts of a dogs cortex, they discovered that they could make different parts of the dogs body move. Furthermore, they discovered an important and unexpected principle of brain activity. They found that stimulating the right side of the brain produced movement in the left side of the dogs body, and vice versa. This finding follows from a general principle about how the brain is structured, called contralateral control, meaning the brain is wired such that in most cases the left hemisphere receives sensations from and controls the right side of the body, and vice versa.
Just as the motor cortex sends out messages to the specific parts of the body, the somatosensory cortex, an area just behind and parallel to the motor cortex at the back of the frontal lobe, receives information from the skins sensory receptors and the movements of different body parts. Again, the more sensitive the body region, the more area is dedicated to it in the sensory cortex. Our sensitive lips, for example, occupy a large area in the sensory cortex, as do our fingers and genitals.
The Role Of The Thalamus In The Emotional Brain
The thalamus is another region of the brain implicated in the limbic system this structure is found at the heart of the forebrain and is responsible for emotion processing, such as fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, and pleasure. The thalamus plays an essential role in sensory processing all sensory input, other than olfactory information, is processed in this region of brain, hence the nickname ‘Grand Central Station’.
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The Contributions Of Schachter And Damasio
An important development towards the idea of a more complex dynamic interplay arose following some fine-tuning of the James-Lange theory in the latter half of the last century. The idea of a more dynamic collaboration came first, from Stanley Schachter and later, towards the end of the century, via Antonio Damasio.
Schachter showed that given the same injection of adrenalin, but accompanied by different mental preparation, the subjects experienced differences in perceptions. One group were told that the drug would cause various side-effects e.g. a pounding heart, while the other was not primed. Both groups were then exposed to annoying or funny situations. Those who had been prepared reported less irritation or pleasure. They interpreted their response as being due to the drug, while the others reported more anger or amusement, and attributed their response to their emotions. Schachter interpreted these findings as indicating that the cortex builds up an emotional response in terms of the feedback from the periphery, which is then superimposed on the context and situation. In other words, the cortex modifies and refines the meaning of peripheral inputs into clear feelings with reference to the particular context even when they are non-specific. Damasio made a further change suggesting that the feeling of an emotion is constructed by the brain to explain various bodily signals.
The Role Of The Limbic System
We can see from the previous discussion that there is a substantial interplay between the central and peripheral nervous systems, including neural feedback from the organs, muscles and joints that finally give expression to an emotion in any particular context. The interplay occurs in order to keep the animals internal environment relatively constant despite outside challenges, including emotional triggers.
Following an emotional trigger, neural impulses from the peripheral senses and internal organs reach the hypothalamus . The hypothalamus coordinates the homeostatic changes appropriate to a particular stimulus. These might result in alterations of autonomic function, like changes of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and/or any other modifications relevant for optimal body function within that particular context and within optimal physiological limits in that context. If the emotional trigger is intense, for instance on hearing bad news, the subject may start to hyperventilate or display physical changes in homeostasis that greatly disturb normal physiological functioning e.g. turning white and/or fainting.
In the 1950s, Paul Mclean expanded the limbic system to include parts of the hypothalamus, septal area nucleus accumbens , amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex . Neuroscientific studies have confirmed the particular importance of the amygdala, nucleus accumbens and hippocampal formation, and their connections to the orbitofrontal cortex in producing emotions.
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