Where do emotions originate? Did you know? The brain is the organ of emotions: it gives birth to joy, sadness, fear or anger … The researchers have deduced that despite different psychologies between individuals, cerebral activation patterns remain substantially identical and that emotions have a characteristic signature that can be read in different areas of the brain.

As the cognitive and brain mechanisms involved in attention, memory, or reasoning, neuroscientists and psychologists have progressively become aware of how emotions can influence cognitive processes.

In the rest of this article, we will talk about the rational brain and the emotional brain (especially the last) and the differences between the rational brain and the emotional brain. And we will immerse ourselves in the heart of the emotions and the functioning of the brain by taking an interest in researches and discoveries in Neurosciences of the affects. At the end of this article, we will know where do emotions originate?Where Do Emotions Originate?

I – Where Do Emotions Originate?

Emotion is an impulse that pushes the person to act, the etymological root of the word comes from the Latin “e-movere”, that is to say, “to go to” which can be summed up finally in the attack, flight or fight.

Emotions are unconscious reactions that nature has designed to ensure survival and that, for our own benefit, we must learn to manage (not eradicate).

Emotion is a reaction that occurs as a result of a stimulus perceived by the individual that will trigger synchronized activities in many parts of the body, such as in the system of information processing and body-related systems.

– Emotions Can Lead to Behavioral Changes

Emotions such as joy, anger, fear, shame or disgust can lead to behavioral changes such as:

– Good or bad thoughts

– Motor expressions (facial, vocal, gestural or postural)

– A change in heart rate

– A motivation trigger

– A subjective system

Emotions vary over time, understanding their variations, their dynamics and the brain regions involved in these processes requires new developments from a therapeutic point of view.

It must be kept in mind that emotional changes are a determining factor in the development of mental illnesses such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even serious personality disorders.

Knowing what happens in us when we feel an emotion and how this emotion evolves over time has been the field of investigation of a discipline known as dynamic emotions.

– Emotions Follow a Series of Well-Known Patterns

Emotions follow a series of well-known patterns. An emotion may appear suddenly or gradually so that we speak of the degree of the explosiveness of an emotion. Once raised, the phase of compensation of the emotion occurs, that is to say, its intensification or its attenuation in the time, evaluated by its degree of accumulation.

The cerebral bases of these two phases and their possible variations over time are not known, although recent research has identified certain areas of the brain involved in the emergence of emotions, such as the medial prefrontal cortex, amygdala or insula.

In the rest of this article, we will talk about the rational brain and the emotional brain (especially the last) and the differences between the rational brain and the emotional brain. And we will immerse ourselves in the heart of the emotions and the functioning of the brain by taking an interest in researches and discoveries in Neurosciences of the affects. At the end of this article, we will know where do emotions originate?

I – Emotional Brain and Rational Brain?

We are talking about a rational brain and emotional brain that must remain in harmony for a better balance. So where do emotions originate?

1 – The Rational Brain

The rational brain or neocortex comprises 2/3 of the human brain. That’s what gives us the quality of being human and being thinking. The neocortex is divided into two hemispheres; each of them is responsible for the execution of different mental processes.

2 – The Emotional Brain

The emotional brain or limbic system – located below the cerebral cortex – is composed of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus.

– The hypothalamus is an organ of the nervous system that intervenes in the regulation of certain behaviors such as stress and defense. It also regulates diet and sexual functions.

– The hippocampus plays a very important role in the memory and interpretation of what we perceive. The hippocampus regulates stress and anxiety and is responsible for our memorizing abilities.

– The thalamus allows the regulation of sleep, alertness, and consciousness. This region sorts the new information sent by the brain and is able to produce the emotions passed on to the amygdala.

– The cerebral amygdala plays a fundamental role, it is she who sends the impulses that transmit the emotions and which is the center of the emotional control, and which directly influences the learning and the memory.

The common and complementary action of the said regions constitutes an emotional motor system. The same structures that deal with emotional signals participate in other tasks, such as rational decision making and moral judgments.

3 – Physical Differences Between the Rational and Emotional Brain

Research has found physical differences between the brains of people who react emotionally to feelings and those who respond more rationally.

People with a high level of emotional empathy are those who are often scared when they watch a horror movie or start crying during a sad scene. Conversely, those with strong cognitive empathy are more rational, for example when a clinical psychologist advises a patient.

4 – Rational Brain and Emotional Brain: Functioning in the Brain

The brain stem is the most primitive part of the brain and regulates basic functions such as breathing, heart rate or metabolism.

Immediately above the trunk is the limbic system, seat of emotions, through which the first human beings were able to react to adapt to the demands of a changing environment, and develop the ability to identify and avoid hazards.

The limbic system is linked to memory and learning. In this region is the amygdala, the seat of emotional memory, and it allows us to make sense of our experiences, recognizing the things we have already seen and giving them value.

Above the limbic system is the neocortex, which differentiates us from the rest of the species, because it allows us to have the feelings, the language, the understanding of symbols, art, culture, civilization … In other words, it allows us to survive and make sense of our lives.

– Relationship Between Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions

The part of our brain dedicated to thoughts has developed from the emotional region. These brain areas are still closely linked by neural circuits, which means that there is a relationship between thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

The neocortex allows us to read, interpret and control our emotions. But having the ability to control emotions does not mean being rational with our feelings and knowing the causes of all behaviors.

Sometimes there are many emotions managed by the limbic system, where the brain ends up making decisions independently of the frontal lobes, our brain is carried away by the activation of the limbic system, preventing the neocortex from doing its job. This leads to saying things we did not want to say, to regret them.

 

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II – Research and Discoveries by the Neurosciences of Affects

Thanks to the growth of non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, and in parallel with the development of experimental methodologies in cognitive neuroscience, the study of the brain structures involved in the emotional response have gained its acclaim and are today a field of research in its own right: the neuroscience of affects (Affective Neuroscience).

1 – Emotions Evolve over Time

A team of researchers from the Brain Institute (ICM) in France, University KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Maastricht (The Netherlands) in a collaborative study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) in April 2017, for the first time highlights that the brain bases of emotions vary with time.

To know how the activity of these different regions of the brain varies during the different phases of an emotional experience, the researchers conducted an experiment on 31 participants. They asked them to write several short texts on personal topics such as their dreams or aspirations. These texts were then read by judges who deduced the personality of the participants. In fact, all participants received the same negative or neutral feedback on their personality, regardless of their texts.

The researchers then asked participants to read and reflect on these returns for 90 seconds and to report emotional changes over time. In parallel, the activity of their brain was recorded by functional MRI, which allows observing in real time the activation of different regions of the brain.

– It Possible to Differentiate the Two Phases

The researchers were able to study the regions of the brain involved in the explosiveness and accumulation of emotional responses following a negative social experience, known to generate emotional responses that last over time and which therefore make it possible to clearly differentiate the two phases.

The results show that the triggering and compensating phases of emotions are the two main constituents of emotional changes over time and are associated with distinct regions in the brain.

Differences in the explosiveness of the onset of emotion are related to activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. This region is supposed to be involved in the perception one has of oneself. Here, its activation could, therefore, reflect the difference between the evaluation given by the judges and the idea that the participants have of themselves.

– Insula Has a Vital Role in the Integration of Emotional Signals

The differences in accumulation are related to the activation of the posterior part of the insula, a region known to play a key role in the integration of emotional signals.

This is the first study showing that the activity of brain regions that orchestrate the emotional response varies over time. It highlights the importance of taking into account this temporal dimension to understanding the cerebral basis of the evolution of emotions, from triggering to intensification or attenuation, following a process of social exclusion. These findings may have implications for the treatment of mental health disorders.

2 – Intestinal Flora and Emotions Are Related

According to a study by researchers at the University of California, published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Behavioral Medicine in June 2017, intestinal flora influences both our physical health and our emotional state. Its composition is related to the density of certain brain areas and to human behavior.

The researchers established the intestinal profile of 40 healthy women, through faecal samples. They also observed these women’s brains by MRI as they looked at pictures that were supposed to provoke emotional responses. The women were divided into two groups according to the composition of their intestinal flora: 33 of them had more Bacteroides bacteria, and the other 7 had more Prevotella.

– The “Bacteroides” Group

In the “Bacteroides” group, the thickness of gray matter in the frontal and insular cortex, two regions involved in the processing of information, was greater. The hippocampus, a region involved in memory, also had a larger volume.

– The “Prevotella” Group

In the “Prevotella” group, there were more connections between the brain regions involved in the emotions, the attention, the senses, while the volume of certain regions such as the hippocampus was less important. When “Prevotella” women looked at negative images, their hippocampus was less active and they showed more negative feelings (anxiety, irritability) than others.

These results reinforce the idea that there are interactions between brain and intestine in humans. One can imagine improving someone’s mood by modifying their intestinal flora, which could avoid the side effects of antidepressants and anxiolytics.

3 – The Emotional Zero

This concept defines the point at which neural circuits have been formed, which will determine how a child will deal with situations from an emotional point of view throughout his or her life. In this way the closed-circuit remains there and although the expression and the control of the emotions can be learned a posteriori, it will always be necessary to leave from the neuronal base which is formed until the age of two years.

The key to fostering emotional development in the child will be the intersubjective relationships that are established between the child and the people with whom he or she is related.

– The Emotional Connection Between Parents and Their Children Is Essential

The physical and emotional connection between parents and their children is very important. This is the foundation of a child’s emotional development. When the child feels safe with his environment, the child’s self-esteem is strengthened. The child will feel safe and pay attention to the environment and begin to explore and learn. When children do not receive love at home, they lose self-esteem and this leads to social and emotional problems in the future.

In the figure: Activation of different regions of the brain, in a positive emotional context, which facilitates the memory. These are the right gyrus: lingual (GL), posterior hippocampus (pGH), anterior hippocampus (aGH) and fusiform (GF).

– Emotional and Cognitive Processes Are Inseparable

Neuroscience has shown that emotions nurture curiosity, serve us to communicate, and are essential in the process of reasoning and decision-making, that is, emotional and cognitive processes are inseparable. In addition, positive emotions facilitate memory and learning, while in chronic stress, the amygdala – one of the key brain regions of the limbic system or “emotional brain” – prevents the passage of information from the body. A hippocampus with the prefrontal cortex, the seat of executive functions.

Neuroscientists define empathy as a social-emotional ability to perceive, share, and understand the emotional states of others.

4 – Getting to Know the Emotions

Emotions are very present in the life of the individual, so it is important to learn to know and manage them, because emotions affect other human abilities, such as thinking, solving problems or making decisions. So, if we are full of positive emotions, it will be easier to get something positive as a result of our behaviors. For example, two people with the same skills may have different levels of success and it depends on the emotion that each of them carries when it acts.

– Decrease Your Negative Emotions

If we do not manage emotions well, especially those that are negative, we will not be able to do our daily tasks, such as focusing, remembering, learning, and making decisions.

Emotional awareness is defined as the intensity with which we value our own emotional feelings, in order to evaluate the consequences, the meaning, but also to what extent we are able to perceive, analyze and integrate the emotions of our surroundings. Informed emotional awareness will contribute to a good level of emotional skills.

5 – Emotional Brain: Food, Immune System, Sleep and Stress

The microbiome is related to our emotions. The scientific name of the axis that connects them is called the microbiota-intestine-brain axis. It is a wonderful, complex and complicated system, from top to bottom and bottom to top, reciprocal connections from the brain to the intestine and from the intestine to the brain through hormones, the immune system, the sympathetic nervous system, and the vagus nerve.

– Serotonin Is Very Involved in Emotions and Sleep

The enteric system is a network of several million neurons that regulate peristalsis – the intestinal transit – and that work through several neurotransmitters, but mainly to serotonin (90% of serotonin is found in the abdominal region, not in the brain ). This neurotransmitter is very involved in emotions and sleep. When we sleep well and feel happy it is an expression of serotonin.

– Everything Is Connected

The microbiota-gut-brain system is what makes us feel emotions through the body. Everything is connected, the viscera and the brain, and this connection can go in two directions: brain-intestine or intestine-brain. Microorganisms can indirectly modify cerebral homeostasis.

When we are under stress, we have a high level of cortisol, the impermeable barrier of bacteria deteriorates and if there is contact with the blood, it can be the cause of several autoimmune diseases.

– The Management of Our Emotions Are Fundamental

To avoid this, the Mediterranean diet, sport, and good stress management through emotional intelligence – the management of our emotions – are fundamental. Anxiety and depression, among other pathologies, originate in a significant percentage of the “second brain” and the microbiota.

Fruits, vegetables, fermented milk products (yogurt or kefir), among others, are pre- and probiotic foods that help create a barrier to bacteria that covers the small intestine.

– Risk Factors to Break down the Barrier

Stress and its main hormone-linked, cortisol, as well as alcohol, antibiotics, tobacco and excess sugar (among other factors),  help to break down this barrier, causing the entry of certain pathogenic microorganisms into the body. a blood circulation that causes an immune-inflammatory response – the cytokines – that will reach the brain, modifying in extremis the amount of serotonin that we produce in the dorsal and ventral raphe nucleus of the brain-stem. Hence the relationship between “the second brain” present in our intestines, the microbiota and emotions.

– Humans Have About 2000 Different Bacterial Species

The flora or gut microbiota is composed of all the bacteria that live in the intestine, most of them playing a role in health because they promote the absorption of nutrients and are essential for the synthesis of certain compounds, such as vitamin K and other complex B.

It is estimated that humans have about 2000 different bacterial species, of which only 100 can become harmful. The flora agglutinates all the bacteria of the gastrointestinal system and is the largest reserve of microbiota in the entire human body.

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