Where do emotions live in the brain?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Emotional responses seem to be centralized within one area of the brain: the limbic system. This system is located underneath the cortex. There are a number of parts to the limbic system. The amygdala and hippocampus, both small structures within it, are believed to be the primary areas managing your emotions.

    The amygdala has a critically important and memorable role in our experiencing and processing of emotions: It handles fear. It's the central processing area for our feelings of fright, whenever they occur. It combines scary sensory stimulus, such as someone approaching you with a gun, with a fight or flight response. The amygdala gets input from high-level areas such as the parts of our brain that process sight and sound and sends its response output to the hypothalamus and autonomic portions of the brainstem. The amygdala also has a role in mood as well as conscious emotional response to things that happen to us such as anger, pleasure and, again, fear.

    The hippocampus region, for its part, tackles memory. In fact, it's a necessary component for making new memories. It's not critical for short-term memory, or for the kind or memory needed to learn skills by rote, such as riding a bike, but it is the mechanism the brain uses to file away new memories. If you lost your hippocampus you could briefly hold things in memory, but only for moments; being unable to file a lasting memory, you'd forget what you did an hour ago. This is why Alzheimer's first attacks the hippocampus [source: Washington University School of Medicine].

    Another important limbic area related to emotions is the thalamus. The thalamus is a kind of traffic cop of sensory input, routing visual, auditory and touch senses to the cortex. Interestingly, although the thalamus is typically considered just a passive relay of sensory data, recent research seems to suggest it actually "sees" the data again because the thalamus, it turns out, is involved in shuttling the input between cortical areas after the initial relay [source: University of Chicago Medical Center].

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