What are emotions and how are they mediated in our brain?
Our brain gathers information from the world through our five senses: hearing, smell, taste, touch and vision. If the pattern of incoming information matches templates in the brain’s emotional, or limbic, centers, these centers trigger our threat or reward systems, creating emotions in our minds. We feel anxiety or anger from threat signals, sadness from loss signals and pleasure from reward signals.
What are thoughts?
Later processing in higher centers in the brain, such as the cortex, results in thoughts. Thoughts are a higher-order synthesis of several information streams that come together. One stream comes from emotions. Memories of past experiences provide another stream. Each stream is given a certain weight or value, so its influence on our thinking process can vary from time to time as its value changes.
When emotions are intense, they deeply influence our thinking. Intense anxiety, for example, results in our thoughts being worrisome, while sadness results in unhappy thoughts such as guilt and hopelessness. The value placed on specific information in the thought process varies among individuals. That’s why two people in the same situation can have different thoughts and reach different conclusions.
The Threat and Reward Systems
Key hubs for triggering emotions are housed in a part of the brain called the limbic system. Two hubs are particularly vital: the amygdala, which mediates threat response, and the accumbens, which mediates reward. These have evolutionary value for individual and species survival and for motivating procreation. In our modern age, these hubs mediate common emotions. Anxiety, anger and sadness are derived from the threat system, and lack of pleasure comes from under-activity of the reward system.
Is behavior controlled by emotions or thoughts?
Behaviors are the actions driven by our Emotions and Thoughts. Intense emotions make certain behaviors more likely and more reactive, and give us fewer choices in our actions. Thus, anxiety drives agitated behavior, and sadness withdraws us from others. If our thoughts are in control of our behaviors, then our behaviors are deliberate, intentional, pre-meditated, goal-directed and willfully chosen.
The power of eMindLog to understand and manage your mental wellbeing
Emotions, thoughts and behaviors form the foundation of our self-assessment in eMindLog. They consider the two critical systems in our brain – response to threat and reward, and their functional states manifested in stress, anxiety and depression.