What Part of the Brain Controls Emotions?

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The brain is the most complicated organ in our body. Various parts of the brain control different types of emotions. When all these parts work properly, it makes us emotionally healthy and stable. Malfunctions, however, can lead to severe emotional problems.

Deep Limbic System

  • The deep limbic system (DLS) is in the central area of the brain and is about the size of a walnut. It is plays a vital role in setting a person's emotional state. Like a mental photo album, the DLS stores highly charged emotional memories, both positive and negative. This lifelong experience of our emotional memories strongly affects our emotional tone. For example, traumatic experiences usually make a person become negative and melancholic, whereas people with positive emotional memories are more optimistic and generally happy.

Prefrontal Cortex

  • The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is 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 PFC leads to conscientiousness, thoughtfulness and a goal-oriented personality. If the PFC is low in activity, it can make a person disorganized, easily distracted and sometimes antisocial. On the other hand, if the PFC is overworked, it can cause anxiety, inflexibility and impulsiveness.

Anterior Cingulate Gyrus

  • The anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG) is in the medial area of the brain, and runs lengthwise through the frontal lobes. It is the part of the brain that makes humans flexible and able to perceive options in life. That's why it is sometimes called "the brain's gear shifter." People with healthy activity in the ACG are usually coorperative and more adaptable to changes. People with ACG imbalance, on the contrary, usually worry too much about the future, hold grudges from the past and feel unsafe in the world. Some serious psychiatric disorders associated with abnormal ACG activity include obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders and addictive disorders.

Basal Ganglia

  • The basal ganglia (BG) are a large set of nuclei, surrounding the deep limbic system. Their 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 shocked. Low BG activity can result in movement disorders and low motivation, whereas high BG activity usually causes anxiety, workaholism and muscle tension. The BG, in addition, are involved with the sense of pleasure or ecstasy. That's why certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine, affect the BG the most.

Temporal Lobes

  • The temporal lobes are beneath the temples and behind the eyes. They are in control of memory, language learning, object recognition and mood stability. Trouble in the temporal lobes, especially on the left side, usually lead to temper problems, aggression and severe depression. On the other hand, high activity in the right temporal lobes can result in increased sensory perception or an extreme sense of intuition, which makes certain people more religious than others.

References

  • Keep Your Brain Young; Marilyn Albert and Guy McKhann; 2002
  • Making A Good Brain Great; Daniel G. Amen, M.D.; 2005
  • Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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