Emotions and the Brain

Opinion CategoryI’ve recently started to think about emotions. I’m not a very emotional person. I guess I’m just like many other men. I admit that I’m stereotyping here so I hope you don’t mind. However, I often wonder why men and women tend to differ so much when it comes to our emotions. There are so many stereotypes and many of them seem to be true most of the time.

Do emotions come from our brains, our hearts, or from some other organ? Does it come from hormones and other chemicals circulating in our bloodstream? Perhaps that’s why people blame emotional flare-ups on variations on hormone levels. However, we all know that our brain ultimately controls our words and actions. How we react to our emotional flares are determined by our cognitive processes occurring in our brain.

BoxMen (or the stereotypical man) can easily compartmentalize their emotions and place them into a box. Those boxes may never get opened for many years. Although some people may do this subconsciously, others do it consciously and intentionally. Certain people don’t want to feel specific emotions. They hide from them and they use any type of rationalization (yes, from the brain again) to tell themselves that they don’t need to be emotional. Others feel that they are stronger if they don’t display emotions. Much of this is culturally rooted since young boys may grow up conditioned and trained not to display their emotions. In some cultures, the display of emotions may be a sign of weakness. In certain cultures, men are expected to be so stoic that they forget how to connect with their emotions. They become so detached and removed that they ultimately lack emotions. In the East Asian culture, men tend to be very unemotional. Many remain detached even from their families. Maybe that’s why they can disown their children for seemingly menial things and be unemotionally affected.

We must not forget that we also have psychiatric conditions where people don’t display emotions. Or, they may display inappropriate emotions. I think that people who have antisocial personality disorder are classic examples of individuals who may be so disconnected from emotions like guilt that they rarely (or never) display remorse for their wrongful actions. It’s actually quite frightening when you think about it. Some people have no conscience and they are able to do some horrific things and be totally unaffected emotionally.

So have you ever wondered why we have emotions? Do animals also have emotions? Some would argue that animals feel love, sadness, anger, and other emotions. Others may think that animals are unable to feel as many emotions as people and they only react to instincts. I think emotions help us from killing ourselves. How would you know to run from a roaring lion in the middle of the jungle if you didn’t experience fear? Emotions ultimately help us maintain social order if we’re connected with them and use them appropriately. So are you an emotional person? Or are you emotionally detached?

  • Interesting post! I don’t think emotions come from the brain, it looks more like the other way around in my humble opinion … I think a lot of our mental and physical functioning is guided by the emotional body, as well as being interactive. Yes, hormones and chemicals … but why do they function as they do, or why are they sometimes so off?

  • Emotions can be very complex and hormones undoubtedly play a significant role. The human body is a mystery and we seem to learn more about it on a daily basis.

  • Frimml

    And let us not forget the philosophical importance of emotion on our existence:

    Emotions drive us to LIVE! They make us CREATIVE!

    Consider this: If we did not have emotions, we would not care about anything. And, if we did not care about anything, we would not innovate; we would not progress!

    Of course, being human, our very survival depended on (and very much still does depend on) our resourcefulness and creativity, since our bodies require more from our bodies than we have to survive, e.g. instead of nature endowing us with the claws to kill, we are endowed with the means to build the claws to kill, or indeed the claws to plough the Earth! – we need social groups, structure, co-operation & invention – it’s our hallmark! -and all of the mental processes that allow this are ultimately driven by emotion, i.e. what we WANT! Desire!

    Quite wonderful, really!

  • Frimml

    Of course you touched on this, Joseph, with your allusion to fear in our motivation to survive and run away from the ferocious beast which we have chosen to call a tiger!

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  • Christine

    Men seem to have a different brain than women, but nevertheless we all have a hypocampus and amygdala. The hypocampus is extremely vunerable to stress hormones. When those hormones reach a high level, they supress the activity of the hypocampus and as a result the hypocampus loses its ability to function normal, no matter you’re a woman or a man.

  • An emotion is a complex reaction from a person to a perception. This reaction induces him or her to assume a body response, a facial expression, a gesture or select a specific behavior. An emotion takes place between a perception and a subsequent reaction.

    How we feel about things is the central concern for people, because emotions mediate between our bodies with their physical perceptions and images of the world and our minds with their concepts and ideas. Physical experiences and the biochemical reactions in our bodies trigger emotions in the consciousness, and the conscious and subconscious responses of our emotional feelings stimulate biochemical processes in the body. Human beings are well integrated systems, and any separation between the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual is artificial, merely for purposes of analysis.

    You can read the rest at my post, check the comments that some of them are realy amazing;

  • Preeti

    why do two people have differnt emotions

  • Dee

    I had a TBI 22 years ago. I have five children. I loved my children with all my heart. After the accident, I forgot I had children. I remembered my youngest,after a short time; all the love I felt for her returned. I had to force the memories of my other four children back by looking at the photos albums. I remembered them, but only the memories that were a part of the pictures. I NEVER FELT THE LOVE FOR THEM AGAIN. I always believed love is a spiritual thing. So how could damage to a brain cause you to lose it. This web site is the first thing that I have found that address the problem.

    Thank You

  • Dee

    I enjoyed and learned from the article Emotions in the brain by Joseph Kim, MD, MPH.

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH, is a physician, engineer, technologist, and avid writer. He enjoys writing about advances in technology that are revolutionizing healthcare. Dr. Kim studied engineering at MIT, then received his medical degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. He also has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health.

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