Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Endorphins and emotion

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The effect of endorphins on emotion:
What is the effect of endorphins on emotion and what are the mechanisms for these effects?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Most people attribute endorphins to ‘feeling good’. Endorphins are involved in many everyday bodily processes however they are generally known for blocking pain receptors and bringing relief to the individual. The interaction between endorphins and emotion and the effect that endorphins have on how we feel is an interesting[vague] area of research. This book chapter will look at how endorphins affect our emotions both positively and negatively. From this it will look out how we can improve our mood by applying the positive effects in our everyday life. Conclusively this chapter will look at ways in which this topic could grow, as many areas of this subject require further research. |}

What are endorphins?[edit | edit source]

Dictionary Definition:The oxford dictionary of psychology (2015), defines endorphins as; Any member of the group of endogenous opioid peptides that occur naturally in the brain and that bind to opiate receptors and block pain sensations, the other major families of brain opiates being dynorphin and enkephalin. The most important type of endorphin is beta-endorphin (β-endorphin). [From Greek endon within + Morpheus the god of sleep and dreams].

Opioid peptides have similar biochemical properties as heroine and morphine. (Dishman, 2009). They are widespread throughout the body, specifically through the peripheral nervous system, brain and spinal cord. (Dishman, 2009). They are involved in many bodily processes such as, pain regulation, temperature regulation, metabolism, appetite and memory. (Evans, 1988). Hans Kosterlitz and John Hughes first discovered endorphins in the 1970s. In their research they were able to isolate molecules from a pig’s brain that activated opioid receptors (Cormack, 2003). In 1977, Roger Guillemin and Andrew W. Schally won the Noble price for their research and findings on endorphins. (Rokade, 2011). These findings paved the way for both physiological and psychology research to come

There are three types of endorphins, these are known as: alpha, beta and gamma. (Kirkham, 2012). Psychological research suggests that beta-endorphins are the most potent of the three; therefore this type of endorphin will be the main type focused on in this book chapter.

Endorphins can have both a positive and negative effect on our emotions. Lets look at this in more detail.

What are emotions?[edit | edit source]

Before looking at the interaction between endorphins and emotions, lets quickly get a better understanding of emotions themselves.

Emotions[edit | edit source]

Dictionary Definition: The oxford dictionary of psychology (2015) defines emotions as; Any short-term evaluative, affective, intentional, psychological state, including happiness, sadness, disgust and other inner feelings. [From Latin e-away + movere, motum to move + - ion indicating an action, process or state].

It has been argued that the physiology of emotion lies in both the peripheral and central nervous system. The autonomic nervous system and the limbic system structures particularly, are involved in the mediation of emotional processes. (Scherer, 2014).

The projection of emotions on to others is known as emotional expression. It is a term that refers to changes in body language, facial expressions and auditory actions when different emotions are felt. (MacCurdy, 2013). These are visual and auditory aids that can help others interpret how we may be feeling at particular moments in time.

Theories of emotion[edit | edit source]

One of the most well known theories of emotion is the James-lange theory. This theory is strongly based on principles of physiology, with bodily changes being a direct cause of the emotional experience. (Ecedents, 2001). Thus why it is the main theory included in this book chapter as it closely relates with the idea of endogenous peptides having a direct effect on our emotions. The main premise of this theory can be quoted directly from James-Lange himself: “Bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.” (Lange, 1950).

'Figure 2. The James-Lange Theory of Emotion

Looking closer at the many different emotions we as human beings are capable of feeling, plutchik's wheel of emotions is a helpful diagram that displays the different emotions and the relationship between them. It is reminiscent of a colour wheel as the darker colours are represented as the more intensive emotions, in centre of the wheel, with less intensive emotions a lighter colour on the outside of this. (Plutchik, 1991). It is based on theorist Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. It is a useful visual aid in better understanding varying emotions and their effect on one another.

Now we should have a better understanding of what endorphins and emotions are in and of themselves, lets move on.

Endorphins and positive emotions[edit | edit source]

Endorphins are widely known to make you feel good. The body produces endorphins in situations of threat, stress and in the presence of pain. Endorphins can produce feelings of calmness and pain relief. (Kirkham, 2012). It has been found that endorphins are directly related to changes in mood. Clinical studies have found that external endorphin injections have been found to directly uplift a patient in a bad mood, displaying negative emotions. (Rokade, 2011).

Psychological studies have found that particular activities trigger the release of endorphins and in turn produce positive emotions in an individual.

Exercise[edit | edit source]

Physical exercise is one of the most well known of this concept. It has been found that exercise leads to increased production of endorphins. A psychological feeling of euphoria is generated from this, which as previously stated, mimics the feeling given by recreational drugs. (Bagchi, 2013)

A study looking at the production of beta-endorphins during aerobics found that endorphin levels were increased five-fold compared with the baseline levels taken (Bagchi, 2013). It appeared that fitness level did not have an impact on the production of endorphins, however the trained athletes in the study were better able to metabolize the endorphins. (Bagchi, 2013).

Another study found that exercise, particularly running, had an enormous effect on emotion due to endorphin release. This is a widely known phenomenon, which has been coined as ‘runners high’.

The ‘Runners high’ phenomena[edit | edit source]

‘Runners high’ is the result of the release of endorphins released during continuous exercise. When pain begins to take over during an athletes work out, endorphins are released to reduce the pain. This is done by stopping the pain signals sent to the brain. The athlete feels a sense of euphoria and is able to continue past their threshold limit, due to this surge in positive feelings and in turn emotions (Rokade, 2011).

This[which?] particular study looking at runners high, which was conducted by Boeckr (2008) and his team, measured endorphin release after exercise. It was found that the emotional state of euphoria was significantly increased after running. It was also found that this was inversely correlated with opioid binding in the prefrontal cortex, insular cortex and temporoparietal regions of the brain. (Boeckr, 2008). This is an interesting finding that suggests that endorphin release in running is directly linked to positive emotional states.

Music[edit | edit source]

Music is another activity that has been found to release endorphins and, in turn, produce positive emotions. Listening to music releases endorphins in the blood, which encourages changes in mood. (Rokade, 2011).

Figure 5. Listening to music can release endorphins and improve mood.

A study aiming to find a link between music and endorphin release found promising and interesting results. It was found that engagement with music, in the form of singing along to music, dancing to music and drumming along to music all triggered endorphin release. (MacDonald, 2012). Interaction with music was found to have a stronger link to endorphin release than listening to music alone. This finding suggests that a bodily response to an activity could be more likely to trigger endorphin release as opposed to sitting still.

Research looking into the common feelings individuals’ experience while listening to music, such as a tingling sensation or positive emotions such a thrill, found a link between this and endorphin release. It was found that while listening to music, beta-endorphins are released that buffer stress hormones, leading to an individual feeling more positive (McKinney, 1997).

These studies show what an important impact endorphins can have in increasing our mood. Exercise and music are two of the main activities known to release endorphins.

Endorphins and combating negative emotions[edit | edit source]

As with improving our general state of mind, endorphins also play an important role in combatting our negative emotions.

Anxiety[edit | edit source]

Figure 6. Clinical trials have found medication reductions to be attributed to exercise increase in anxiety patients.

Endorphins have also been found to combat negative emotions that are brought about by a mental disorder. Repeated clinical trials have found that endorphin increasing oral medication increases will power and feelings of well being in patients. (Rokade, 2011).

There is a lot of psychological research that supports the idea that exercise is an important tool in reducing anxiety. Researchers looking at mood changes in anxiety patients were able to replace oral medications over time with daily morning and evening exercise programs, due to the same feeling given by both of these treatments. Patients reported feeling more positive and confident and less stressed after this type of treatment. (Rokade, 2011).

Deboer (2012) argues that during a review of the current information regarding anxiety and exercise interventions, all of the studies analyzed provided converging evidence for the benefit of physical activity. This was consistent among a variety of accounts of patient anxiety reduction and the negative emotions that come along with this (Deboer, 2012).

Depression[edit | edit source]

Depression is another mental illness that has been found to be combated by endorphin inducing activities. Again, exercise is the main treatment method used today.

A study looking at middle-aged men with depression found that over an eight-month period of repeated endurance training , beta-endorphin release was increased and depression scores were decreased. (Lobstein, 1991). This finding provides more merit for the link between exercise and improved emotional states.

Research looking at the link between depression and reduction of negative emotions found that physical activity has similar effects to anti-depressant medication. (Dinas, 2011). This is a very important point as any possible reduction in medication for patients is discernibly ideal for the future.

Addiction[edit | edit source]

A negative implication of endorphin release is the risk of addiction . As the feelings endorphins give us so closely mimic the feelings of a drug, it is not surprising that chasing that feeling can become addictive.

Figure 7. The disease model of addiction

Research suggests that endogenous opioids may be involved in cravings and relapse of drug addiction. (Van Ree, 2005). This has been argued to be linked to an individual’s susceptibility for developing an addiction. An example of this can be seen in the disease model of addiction.

A three-stage process of addiction represents the disease model of addiction. Beginning with susceptibility it moves on to the addiction itself and then the outcomes of this, which are the main self-destructive behaviors. (Peele, 1988). This model should help to provide a visual of how addiction could possibly unfold, and how this could directly related to endorphin release addictions.

Although exercise is significantly correlated with endorphin release, an obsession with feeling these feelings may in fact lead to the development of negative emotions if these needs are not meet.

Research looking into athletes and the cancellation of a planned workout found that the emotions associated with this unplanned occurrence of withdrawal included: tension, anxiety, guilt, anger, sadness and confusion. (Krivoschekov, 2011). The more prolonged the deprivation of training, the more intense these emotions became. Another interesting finding in this research was that although endorphin release has been linked to pain reduction and regulatory functions in the body, athletes who missed a week of training were found to have a lower-pain threshold, fatigue and reduced production of hormones. (Krivoschekov, 2011).

These findings suggest that dependency can be assigned to the positive emotions associated with endorphin releases. However, further and in-depth research as to why this is the case is still quite limited at this point in time.

Real life example[edit | edit source]

Jessica Ryen Dole for Fox news (2012), reported a story about a Californian woman who battled with an exercise addiction for 20 years. 46-year-old Misti stated that at the height of her addiction she had three gym memberships and two personal trainers, going to the gym multiple times a day. Misti started to miss out on important events in her life due to her commitment to working out. She also chose working out over seeing her friends and boyfriend. Eventually she began to realize she was addicted to the feeling endorphins gave her and admitted to being obsessed. As she started seeing this as a problem, she also began to notice the toll it was taking on her body. She was left with constant joint pain and swelling due to amount of exercise she was doing. After going to therapy and receiving treatment for her addiction, Misti was able to get her life back on track. She now helps others do the same, warning them about the negative effects of exercising to extreme.

This story shows the detrimental effects being addicted to endorphins can have on a persons life.

Implications for further research[edit | edit source]

Although this chapter has provided promising findings in regards to the effect of endorphins on emotions, there is still a need for further research. Rokade (2011) argues that endorphin levels can be hard to measure, as they are only present in the blood for a few seconds, as opposed to other hormones that remain present for longer in the system. Therefore it has been argued that testing techniques need to be further research and improved.

Researchers have also shown encouragement for more clinical population based trials. (Deboer, 2012). This will provide more avenues in deciding which exercise regimes will be suited to which type of participants and patients. This is important, as varying levels of fitness and general health will hinder a particular type of exercise regime working for everyone.

Another point to mention is that most of the research regarding addiction and endorphins was conducted in the 1980s. Updated studies should be developed to have a clearer understanding as to how to combat individuals relying on endorphins too heavily.

But how can we safely increase our endorphin levels on a daily basis?[edit | edit source]

Although this chapter only focused on two of the mainly researched activities for increasing endorphins, there are many ways to do this on a day-to-day basis. These are some other suggestions that are both safe and easy to achieve.

4 ways to naturally boost endorphins[edit | edit source]

  1. Have something sweet – studies have found that beta-endorphin receptors increase when chocolate or lollies are eaten. (Parker, 2006).
  2. Eat spicy food – endorphins are released when we eat sometime too spicy, helping to combat the pain. (Rokade, 2011).
  3. Laugh – research has found that the physical action of laughing encourages endorphin production. (Cadena, 2012).
  4. Aromatherapy – lavender and vanilla are well known for enhancing pain relieving properties aka endorphins. However many other scents have been found to mimic this same effect, such as, cinnamon, allspice, clove and clary sage. (Ward, 2006).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Endorphins are part of which group of peptides?

Opioid peptides
Vasoactive peptides
Calcitonin peptides
Pancreatic peptides

2 Which one of these is NOT a type of endorphin?

Alpha endorphins
Beta endorphins
Delta endorphins
Gamma endorphins

3 What is the dictionary definition of emotion?

A temporary state of mind or feeling.
The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual's distinctive character
Any short-term evaluative, affective, intentional, psychological state, including happiness, sadness, disgust and other inner feelings.
Any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides which activate the body's opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.

4 What is the James- Lange theory of emotion mainly based on?

A psychological change in state of mind causes emotional experience
A physiological change in the body causes emotional experience
An emotional experience causes a physiological change in the body
Emotional experience is due to social interaction

5 The ‘runners high’ phenomena refers to which of the following?

Is the result of endorphin release from continuous exercise
Is the result of athletes inducing chemical performance enhancers
Is the result of endorphin release before physical exercise
Is the result of athletes jumping ability

6 Rokade’s (2011) study found what in regards exercise and anti-anxiety medication?

Patients undertaking exercise regime only improved while still taking anti-anxiety medication
Exercise had no effect on reducing anxiety in patients
Exercise could replace anti-anxiety medication immediately
Overtime anti-anxiety was successfully replaced with an exercise regime

7 What are the four suggested way to safely increase endorphins?

Aromatherapy, sweet foods, laughing and spicy food
Spicy food, smelling flowers, savory food, socializing
Laughing, aromatherapy, chocolate and savory food
Extreme sports, exercise, listening to music and hot showers

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter examined how endorphins affect our emotions both positively and negatively. Endorphins are released by many different activities. The focus of this chapter has been on exercise and listening to music as these are two of the most researched to date. Endorphins can have a positive impact on our emotions as our pain receptors are blocked, allowing us to feel a sense of euphoria and other enjoyable emotions. Endorphins can also challenge negative emotions, such as anxiety and depression. This is important as this could possibly lead to a reduction in the need for prescribed medications. Although this is a promising area of research, it has been suggested that furthering measuring techniques and a deeper focus into addiction could provide a more well rounded approach to this topic and in turn provide more merit in helping people better understand and adapt to endorphin functioning on our emotions.

References;[edit | edit source]

Bagchi, D., Nair, S., & Sen, C. K. (Eds.). (2013). Nutrition and enhanced sports performance: muscle building, endurance, and strength. Academic Press.

Boecker, H., Sprenger, T., Spilker, M. E., Henriksen, G., Koppenhoefer, M., Wagner, K. J., ... & Tolle, T. R. (2008). The runner's high: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cerebral Cortex, 18(11), 2523-2531.

Cadena, V. (2012). LET US LAUGH TO EASE THE PAIN. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 215(15), iv-iv.

Cambria, E., Livingstone, A., & Hussain, A. (2012). The hourglass of emotions. In Cognitive behavioural systems (pp. 144-157). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Colman, A. M. (2015). A dictionary of psychology. Oxford university press.

Cormack, R. H., Holson, R., & Samuels, M. C. (2003). The Oxford Companion to the Body Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett. SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, 27(1), 47-47.

DeBoer, L. B., Powers, M. B., Utschig, A. C., Otto, M. W., & Smits, J. A. (2012). Exploring exercise as an avenue for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Dinas, P. C., Koutedakis, Y., & Flouris, A. D. (2011). Effects of exercise and physical activity on depression. Irish journal of medical science, 180(2), 319-325.

Dishman, R. K., & O'Connor, P. J. (2009). Lessons in exercise neurobiology: the case of endorphins. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 2(1), 4-9.

Doyle, R. J. (2012, October 12th). Woman battles exercise addiction for twenty years. Fox news.

Ecedents, A. (2001). THE JAMES-LANGE THEORY OF EMOTION. Visceral Sensory Neuroscience: Interoception: Interoception, 9.

Evans, C. J., Hammond, D. L., & Frederickson, R. C. (1988). The opioid peptides. In The opiate receptors (pp. 23-71). Humana Press.

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Krivoschekov, S. G., & Lushnikov, O. N. (2011). Psychophysiology of sports addictions (exercise addiction). Human Physiology, 37(4), 509-513.

Lobstein, D. D., & Rasmussen, C. L. (1991). Decreases in resting plasma beta-endorphin and depression scores after endurance training. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 31(4), 543-551.

MacCurdy, J. T. (2013). The psychology of emotion: morbid and normal (Vol. 12). Routledge.

MacDonald, I., & East, V. P. (2012). Performance of music elevates pain threshold and positive affect: implications for the evolutionary function of music.

McKinney, C. H., Tims, F. C., Kumar, A. M., & Kumar, M. (1997). The effect of selected classical music and spontaneous imagery on plasma β-endorphin. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20(1), 85-99.

Parker, G., Parker, I., & Brotchie, H. (2006). Mood state effects of chocolate. Journal of affective disorders, 92(2), 149-159. Peele, S. (1988). Visions of addiction: major contemporary perspectives on addiction and alcoholism. Lexington Books

Plutchik, R. (1991). The emotions. University Press of America.

Rokade, P. B. (2011). Release of endomorphin hormone and its effects on our body and moods: A review. In International Conference on Chemical, Biological and Environment Sciences (ICCEBS).

Scherer, K. R., & Ekman, P. (2014). Approaches to emotion. Psychology Press

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Ward, A., & Ward, K. (2006). U.S. Patent Application 11/609,330.