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Neuroscience

The Neuroscience Behind Emotions: Exploring The Science Behind Emotions 

Emotions are what makes us human. They are what motivate our actions and aid us to communicate with others. Without emotions, nothing would have any sort of meaning. And so, what even are emotions? How do they work? What is their purpose? This article covers the science behind emotions, how they function, and how it influences our daily life.

Introduction

 Our daily lives are significantly impacted by our emotions. The emotions you encounter on a daily basis can spur you to action and have an effect on both major and minor life decisions. They can either be short-lived, or long-lasting. We make decisions based on how pleased, angry, depressed, bored, or dissatisfied we are. We choose activities and hobbies based on the feelings they elicit. Understanding these different types of emotions can help us navigate life more easily and steadily. (3). According to the Project on the decade of the brain: “The Science of Emotion”, emotions are a brief period of synchronized brain, autonomic, and behavioral changes that aid in responding to an event. They are a highly adaptable type of physiological response that governs our existence and are low-level responses that are encoded in our DNA. Emotion is mostly exhibited in the body’s theater, through posture and facial expression, as well as through internal processes such as heart rate and blood pressure. Feelings are high-level responses that provide a mental and perceptual representation of what is happening physiologically inside our bodies. 

What are Emotions? 

Authors Don Hockenbury and Sandra E. Hockenbury claimed in their book “Discovering Psychology” that an emotion is a complex psychological state with three separate components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response. (4). In addition to attempting to explain what emotions are, scholars have attempted to identify and categorize the various sorts of emotions. Over time, the explanations and insights have evolved.

Emotions are reactions that people have in response to events or situations. The circumstance that causes the emotion determines the type of emotion the individual feels. There are four major emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, and anger, which are associated with three core affects: reward, punishment, and stress. The fundamental emotions are internal states that are controlled by neuromodulators. These internal states are expressed externally as certain stereotypical actions, such as instinct, which is thought to be one of the first means of survival. (2). According to the study on Drosophila and other insects, it states that emotion is essential in both regular human experience and psychiatric diseases. Despite the importance of emotion, the relative absence of objective approaches for scientifically examining emotional phenomena restricts our existing understanding and hence necessitates the creation of novel methodologies. To add on, using behavioral studies of Drosophila, they have created a theory of the fundamental emotions. Basic emotions are internal states generated by fundamental physical changes, which can then lead to genetically “hardwired” innate responses. They have been substantially preserved throughout evolution and share key functional and adaptive features across a broad phylogenetic range.

How do emotions work?

Our brain is covered in neural networks that become stronger or weaker as they are used. Those that are utilized repeatedly form very strong ‘neural highways,’ defining our default thinking, emotional profile, and personality. The good news is that neuroplasticity, the ability to modify brain connections, exists. (5). The interoceptive network in the brain constantly monitors your bodily sensations, such as your heartbeat, lungs filling and emptying, intestines operating, and stomach (slightly) aching. Your brain (encased in its dark, quiet cage known as the skull) attempts to decipher what these physiological feelings signify based on both information received from the outside world via your senses and past experience. (6). Each emotion has a distinct location in the brain. 

Three brain areas appear to be most closely associated with emotions: the amygdala, the insula or insular cortex, and the periaqueductal gray tissue in the midbrain. 

The amygdala, a paired, almond-shaped structure deep within the brain, integrates emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. It interprets fear, distinguishes friends from opponents, and identifies social incentives and how to obtain them. The amygdala is also involved in classical conditioning, a sort of learning. According to Brainfacts: “The Anatomy of Emotions”, they talk about Russian biologist Ivan Pavlov, who in his experiments on digestion in dogs, initially described classical conditioning, in which a stimulus evokes a certain response through repeated exposure. When a lab technician offered them food, the dogs salivated. Over time, Pavlov saw that even when the technician was empty-handed, the dogs would start to salivate at his sheer presence. 

The insula is the source of distaste — a strong negative reaction to an unpleasant odor, for example. The sensation of revulsion may keep you from consuming poison or damaged food. When someone feels or expects pain, the insula lights up with activity, according to studies utilizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). According to neuroscientists, the insula receives a status report on the body’s physiological state and develops subjective feelings about it, hence connecting internal states, feelings, and conscious actions.

The periaqueductal gray, which is found in the brainstem, has also been linked to pain perception. It has receptors for pain-relieving substances such as morphine and oxycodone, and it can assist quiet activity in pain-sensing nerves, which may explain why you can occasionally distract yourself from pain so you don’t experience it as keenly. In addition to protective and reproductive activities, maternal bonding, and anxiety, the periaqueductal gray is involved in anxiety.

Together, these different parts of the brain, including the central and peripheral nervous system make up our vast sense of emotions.

How do emotions influence our daily life?

If you were asked what makes you human, emotions – or some component of your personality that is closely tied to emotions – could be near the top of the list. Our emotions have an impact on our relationships, our career, our lifestyle, our sense of ourselves, and our large and small decisions. Darwin was captivated by emotions and came to the conclusion that they exist to alert us quickly whether a situation is safe. Wrecognize the significance of our emotions in this and many other ways. We are aware that anger may be a source of strength, love keeps us connected to other people, and fear encourages us to cross the street carefully. However, we frequently have a tangled connection with our emotions, labeling some as positive and others as harmful. We may conceal and dismiss those we don’t want or consider ‘acceptable,’ while pursuing those we do, potentially to our cost. However, we frequently have a tangled connection with our emotions, labeling some as positive and others as harmful. We may conceal and dismiss those we don’t want or consider ‘acceptable,’ while pursuing those we do, potentially to our cost. Overall our emotions have a big influence on how we live our daily lives. You can be motivated to take action and have an impact on both major and minor life decisions by the feelings you encounter every day.

Akshaya Ganji, Youth Medical Journal 2022

References

  1. Project on the decade of the brain: “The Science of Emotion”-https://www.loc.gov/loc/brain/emotion/Damasio.html 
  2. Frontiers: “A Model for Basic Emotions Using Observations of Behavior in Drosophila”-https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00781/full 
  3. Verywellmind: “Emotions and Types of Emotional Responses (The Three Key Elements That Make Up Emotion)”-https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-emotions-2795178 
  4. Hockenbury D. Hockenbury SE. Discovering Psychology. Worth Publishers 
  5. Welldoing: “The Neuroscience of Emotions”- https://welldoing.org/article/neuroscience-emotions 
  6. Behavioral Research Blog: “How emotions are made” –https://www.noldus.com/blog/how-emotions-are-made 
  7. Brainfacts: “The Anatomy of Emotions”-https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/emotions-stress-and-anxiety/2018/the-anatomy-of-emotions-090618 

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