Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Thinking about emotions? Consult your brain.

Emotions are feelings in which everyone has experienced. These can be from the feeling of happiness and joy to that of sadness and loneliness. But did you know that your brain is the key component in effecting how you feel and react to those feelings? Let’s dive deeper into the “Feels” and find out how this occurs. 

Let’s get to the mastermind of the operation, your brain. The brain has two sources of information: The senses which tell you what’s happening outside of the body and your emotions to tell you how you feel about what’s happening around you. Emotions are key motivator to help yourself take care of needs, such as safety and companionship. This helps promote the aspect of survival and reproduction that all species look for.

The section of the brain that controls how to react to these emotions is the limbic system. Emotions are determined by the different levels of chemicals that are present in this system. There is no “love” or “Hate” chemical, but a mix of different chemicals that cause each emotion. When an external stimulus occurs your body reacts to it and then of course is followed up by a certain emotion. This is due to dozens of chemical messengers, better known as neurotransmitters, go from cell to cell and even broadcast to a whole region of the brain. When these signals are sent they start to become layered and this adjusts how you respond and effectively alter your mood.

When a person is stimulated by danger their body releases stress hormones that help them react faster such as epinephrine (adrenaline). When this danger subsides your brain sends chemical relaxers to dampen the regions that created fear and effectively stopping the release of adrenaline. While all mammals produce the same basic emotions like fear and anger, humans have extremely developed social emotions such as shame, guilt and pride which involves what people around us think.

Let’s now talk about some common emotions and how they occur. Fear, Anger and pleasure is an emotion in which nearly all humans have felt at least once in their life. These emotions are controlled by the same part of the brain called Amygdala, this in turn triggers a response in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the key areas for the many things that people do “without thinking”, this includes the “fight or flight” response.

Enjoyment and happiness triggers certain parts of your brain called “pleasure centers”. These areas release “feel-good” chemicals, most prominently dopamine. However this system can be affected by drugs, including nicotine and alcohol. These at the start act as natural rewards causing pleasure and happiness, but they get to the point in which they are constantly needed to avoid the unpleasant symptoms when it is not available. This is usually called “withdrawal” and usually contribute to drug addiction.

Emotions are a key aspect and important to all humans, thus understanding them and how they work can be extremely helpful in tackling mental illnesses such as depression and drug addiction. Understanding how depression occurs also has helped in developments of drugs. These drugs help stop certain chemicals that are associated with causing feelings of depression and improving their way of life.

So when you see someone “down in the dumps” with lack of dopamine, become their dopamine.


Science Museum (Link was too long)


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This entry was posted on April 28, 2016 by in Burwood - Thursday 2pm and tagged , , .

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