Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Limbic system and emotion

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Limbic system and emotion:
What role does the limbic system play in emotion?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Emotion is a complex experience as a result of interactions with the environment, 'it can be seen as a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than conscious effort which is often accompanied by distinct physiological changes' (Gillespie & Beech, 2016)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Human emotions can be very complex as people can feel many different emotions within a day. In psychology, Ekman et al. in 1969 coined the term 'The big six' which are core emotions that are today widely accepted in psychology; they are: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and anger (Kowalska & Wróbel, 2017). Also, Emotional intelligence (EI) is an important construct as it is linked to emotion regulation. EI is defined as the ability to perceive, appraise and express emotions; the ability to access/generate feelings, understand emotions and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions. Emotional intelligence differs between each individual and culture, with men typically showing lower EI than women as men typically suppress their emotions (Megías-Robles et al., 2019). The brain controls the whole body from homeostasis, memory, motor tasks and language, just to name a few. [The Overview basically starts here - consider removing/moving preceding content] The limbic system is located in the centre of the brain and plays a pivotal role in human emotions. This book chapter explains the different structures of the brain that make up the limbic system, how they interact and what role they play in emotion, the theories of emotion and strategies for emotion regulation supported by empirical evidence.

Primary Structures of the Limbic System

  • Limbic Cortex: Contains the cingulate cortex and parahippocampal gyrus.
  • Amygdala: The amygdala is one of the most important structures involved in emotion, with a key role in processing social signals of emotion, emotional conditioning and consolidation of emotional memories (Dalgleish, 2004). It is also the forefront of detecting and responding to threats (LeDoux, 2003).
  • Hippocampal Formation: Contains the dentate gyrus, hippocampus and subicular complex.
  • Hippocampus: Plays a central role in the formation of explicit and declarative memories. In relation to emotion, emotional experience promotes memory consolidation (Richter-Levin, 2004).
  • Thalamus: The anterior thalamic nuclei is connected with the orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, and plays a role in emotional control. However, there is little evidence to support this (Richter-Levin, 2004).
  • Hypothalamus: The Cannon-Bard theory explains that the hypothalamus is the region that is involved in the emotional response to stimuli, and that such responses are inhibited by neurocortical regions (Dalgleish, 2004).
  • Basal ganglia: Primarily motor function. However, the basal ganglia also has a role in emotion recognition (Moors, Ellsworth, Scherer & Frijda, 2013).
  • Cingulate gyrus: Covers the corpus callosum, and is involved in processing emotions and behaviour regulation.
  • Septal area: Has strong projections to emotion-generating areas, and also has a key role in feelings of emotional connectedness and bonding (Sturm, Haase & Levenson, 2016).
  • Basolateral Circuit: It is relayed via the basolateral amygdala which consists of the orbitofrontal and anterior temporal cortex, the amygdala and part of the thalamus. The circuit encodes social signals and plans for social acts (Mohan & Mohandas, 2007)

Theories of Emotion[edit | edit source]

Figure 1: Theories of Emotion
Figure 2: Further Theories of Emotion

Having an understanding of the different theoretical models of emotion will allow a background understanding of how people experience emotions. The main theories are the James-Lange theory, Cannon-Bard theory, Schachter and Singer's Two-Factor theory, and the Cognitive Appraisal theory. They have similar approaches to emotion however, involve different order in which we process in order to have an emotion.

James-Lange Theory: The nervous system develops physical reactions to events, which in-turn creates emotional reactions such as fear, anger and sadness. In this theory, the emotion reactions are dependant on how you interpret the physiological reactions (Cannon, 1927). For example, if you were walking through a dark alley and noticed you were being followed, your hear will start racing and you would interpret that as fear.

Cannon-Bard Theory: This theory explains that people experience the physical reaction and emotion simultaneously. For example, if you see as spider, you are scared and at the same time begin to shake with fear. The thalamus plays a role in this theory, as it sends signals to the amygdala which is involved in emotional processing, and also the thalamus sends messages to the autonomic nervous system which causes the physical reactions in the body (Cannon, 1972).

Schachter and Singer’s Two-Factor Theory: Is the experience of emotion depends on two factors, which are physiological arousal and the cognitive interpretation of that arousal. When an emotion is felt, physiological arousal is felt and the person uses their environment to look for cues to label that arousal.

Cognitive Appraisal': Moors, Ellsworth, Scherer & Frijda (2013) describe the cognitive appraisal theory is the way people appraise/evaluate the situations around them. It is an assessment of a situation that is emotional, where a person evaluates how the event will affect them and interpret the different aspects of that event and results to a response based on that interpretation. This theory has two steps which are: Primary Appraisal and Secondary Appraisal. The first step is the primary appraisal which is the evaluation of how the event will affect you. The secondary appraisal is how you evaluate the situation and decide how to respond.

Damage to The Limbic System[edit | edit source]

Changes to the damaged limbic system

  • Fight or flight
  • High blood pressure
  • Appetite
  • Addiction
  • Memory
  • Attention and Learning
  • Emotion

The brain is very sensitive, and any damage can cause lifetime issues. Catani, Dell’Acqua & Thiebaut de Schotten (2013) states that 'in most psychiatric conditions a dysfunction of limbic structures involved with emotion regulation, social interaction and behaviour have been implicated'. Damage of the ventromedial hypothalamic nuclei and septal nuclei can induce rage. Due to the ventromedial nucleus is destroyed after the destruction of the amygdala, the placidity generated is converted into rage (Mohan & Mohandas, 2007). The amygdala has multiple functions, [grammar?] it plays a role in consolidation and retrieval of emotional memories along side the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal lobe. Also the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are involved in the acquisition, extinction and recovery of fears to cues and context (Mohan & Mohandas, 2007). Evidence shows that bilateral lesions of the amygdala were sufficient to induce passivity, while removal of the amygdala permanently disrupted social behaviour (1), showing the importance of the limbic systems[grammar?] crucial role in the ability to process and express emotions and memory consolidation.

Stress is controlled through the cortical and limbic connection and causes the release of corticotropin (stress hormone) from the paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus (Mohan & Mohandas, 2007). Stimulation of the limbic system causes a change in respiration and blood pressure, with the cingulate gyrus and hypothalamus eliciting the autonomic responses(Mohan & Mohandas, 2007). Chronic stress with the long term activation of the autonomic system can have physiological changes, where the long term release of hormones such as epinephrine can cause high blood pressure and change appetite. Long term stress can impair brain development if stress is experienced from a young age[factual?]. Increased stress and/or trauma heightens the activity of the amygdala, which makes people experience anxiety, panic and stress more[factual?]. Also, prolonged stress can have major complications with the hippocampus and memory consolidation (Richter-Levin, 2004). There are many other issues due to brain damage or development as anxiety disorders are thought to be due to the failure of the anterior cingulate and hippocampus modulating the activity of the amygdala, and reportedly Schizophrenia, Dementia, Affective Disorders, ADHD, Autism, Korsakoff's Syndrome and Kluver-Bucy Syndrome (Mohan & Mohandas, 2007).

Emotion Regulation Theories[edit | edit source]

As emotions are a significant part of everyday life, it is helpful to understand how they impact individuals in everyday life["everyday life" is repeated in this sentence - rewrite]. Emotions direct us to react to a situation, however, some emotions can overwhelm us [grammar?] having an impact on the way we think and feel as research states that emotional states can be directly linked to an individuals goals (Gillespie & Beech, 2016). Emotional regulation is defined as the 'process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions' (Van Bockstaele, Atticciati, Hiekkaranta, Larsen & Verschuere, 2019). Succesful[spelling?] emotion regulation relies on the interaction between the prefrontal regions, which are associated with cognitive control and limbic systems (Ferri, Schmidt, Hajcak & Canli, 2013).

Situation selection is a proactive strategy that requires people to anticipate how a situation might make them feel before deciding to approach or avoid the situation (Webb, Lindquist, Jones, Avishai & Sheeran, 2017). Situation modification is the alteration of situations in order to change the emotional impact (Van Bockstaele, Atticciati, Hiekkaranta, Larsen & Verschuere, 2019). These strategies are beneficial in order to regulate emotions as it allows the person to be aware of their environment and how it may affect their emotions. It allows people to foresee situations they will be in and whether to avoid, or alter them for better emotional outcomes.

Attentional deployment is another emotion regulation strategy that involves transferring focus towards or away from aspects of emotional stimuli (Ferri, Schmidt, Hajcak & Canli, 2013). Ferri, Schmidt, Hajack and Canli (2012) states that emotional stimuli are detected faster and hold attention longer than neutral stimuli. Further explaining that attending to emotional stimuli can slow reaction times, decrease accuracy and can create cognitive vulnerability for psychopathologies such as depression and anxiety.

Cognitive reappraisal is regarded as an adaptive strategy, and involves the reinterpretation of an emotion eliciting situation in order to modify its emotional impact. This strategy is has beneficial outcomes as those who use reappraisal more frequently have better outcomes with more positive emotions, successful mood repair, better social relationships and psychological health, show less depressive symptoms and greater self-esteem leading to overall better life satisfaction (Megías-Robles et al., 2019).

Emotion Regulation Examples
  • Situation Selection: Someone may get angry while driving in busy traffic, so they avoid and drive when the roads are more quiet.
  • Situation Modification: If they get angry whilst driving in busy traffic, they may play some music that may lower frustration.
  • Attentional Deployment: Distracting a Childs[grammar?] attention with a teddy bear away from the Doctor giving an injection.
  • Cognitive Reappraisal: When arguing with someone, looking at the situation from their point of view can lower the emotional impact.

Research[edit | edit source]

Research by Ferri, Schmidt, Hajcak & Canli (2012) looked into the effect of attentional deployment on neural activity by showing participants a range of unpleasant images. Their research showed evidence that the prefrontal cortex exerts top-down control over the amygdala which modulates the processing of emotional information and causes a reduction in subjective affect. Evidence also shows that the control to take attention away from unpleasant stimuli may rely on prefrontal regions of the brain and promotes a decrease in amygdala activity (Ferri, Schmidt, Hajcak & Canli, 2013). This research suggests that avoiding emotionally charged stimuli takes activity away from the amygdala, therefore decreasing the emotional arousal such as fear and anxiety.

Bockstaele, Atticciati, Hiekkaranta, Larsen and Verschuere (2019) found within their research that most participants chose to use situation modification as strategy to regulate their emotions. However, with intense stimuli, they found that situation modification was less effective than distraction.

Cognitive reappraisal strategies involve modulating the emotion process before there is an emotional response generated. Research shows that people with higher EI prefer to use more reappraisal strategies than attempting to suppress their emotions. There was a correlation with EI improving with age for men, however, EI decreased with age for women. Although, they noticed that younger men had higher levels of emotional intelligence than men in older generations, suggesting that in todays' society gender roles and norms have changed regarding emotions therefore, men are taught how to manage their emotions rather than just supressing them (Megías-Robles et al., 2019).

Llewelyn-Webb, Lindquist, Jones & Avishai (2017), conducted an experiment into the effectiveness of using situation selection, reappraisal and suppression as a method of regulating emotions. They did this by using a 7 scale questionnaire about how they agreed with statements regarding emotion regulation strategies. The results found that situation selection was associated with lower levels of negative affect, and even depression. Situation selection was more strongly associated with emotional outcomes such as happiness, anxiety, depression and life satisfaction. The research concluded that situation selection is an effective strategy for regulating emotions, particularly among individuals who are more reactive and poor at emotion regulation, however, that reappraisal may be more effective for those who are less reactive and competent at regulating their emotions due to their ability to implement cognitive regulation strategies more effortlessly.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Summary Quiz

1 What brain structure is primarily involved in motor functions?

Basal Ganglia

2 The Cannon-Bard Theory... ;

is the way people appraise/evaluate the situations around them
experience the physical reaction and emotion simultaneously
develops physical reactions to events which creates emotional reactions
depends on two factors: physiological arousal and cognitive interpretation

3 A parent being silly to distract a child from the Doctor treating their injury... is what type of emotion regulation strategy?

Attentional Deployment
Situation Deployment
Cognitive Appraisal
Situation Modification

4 Which was not listed above as a symptom of damage to the limbic system? ;

High blood pressure
Problems with memory
Poor balance

5 The limbic system is located in the forebrain and plays a pivotal role in emotion?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Overall, the evidence shows there are different effective ways that people can regulate their emotions. However, one emotion regulation theory may benefit one individual more than another, therefore having an understanding of the different ways one can regulate emotions will help as they can choose which theory best fits the current situation and environment. The evidence shows that people with a higher emotional intelligence are better at regulating their emotions, therefore they will have more of an advantage with regulation as they are more likely to understand and use reappraisal. Also, the research showed that situation selection has proven to be a wide beneficial theory, which fits most people therefore, can be used as a base method. Using the emotion regulation theories, first being aware of your own emotions is important in order to regulate them. You need to know what situations you will be in and how that will affect you emotionally. Will it make you happy, angry or upset? and identifying those current emotions. When you can predict what the situation/environment you will be in, then you can avoid the situation or adjust it to make it more beneficial.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Cannon, W. (1927). The James-Lange Theory of Emotions: A Critical Examination and an Alternative Theory. The American Journal Of Psychology, 39(1/4), 106. doi: 10.2307/1415404

Catani, M., Dell’Acqua, F., & Thiebaut de Schotten, M. (2013). A revised limbic system model for memory, emotion and behaviour. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(8), 1724-1737. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.07.001

Dalgleish, T. (2004). The emotional brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5(7), 583-589. doi: 10.1038/nrn1432 Ferri, J., Schmidt, J., Hajcak, G., & Canli, T. (2013). Neural correlates of attentional deployment within unpleasant pictures. Neuroimage, 70, 268-277. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.12.030

Gillespie, S., & Beech, A. (2016). Theories of Emotion Regulation. The Wiley Handbook On The Theories, Assessment And Treatment Of Sexual Offending, 245-263. doi: 10.1002/9781118574003.wattso012

Kowalska, M., & Wróbel, M. (2017). Basic Emotions. Encyclopedia Of Personality And Individual Differences, 1-6. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_495-1

LeDoux, J. (2003). Cellular And Molecular Neurobiology, 23(4/5), 727-738. doi: 10.1023/a:1025048802629

Mohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). The limbic system. Indian Journal Of Psychiatry, 49(2), 132. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.33264

Moors, A., Ellsworth, P., Scherer, K., & Frijda, N. (2013). Appraisal Theories of Emotion: State of the Art and Future Development. Emotion Review, 5(2), 119-124. doi: 10.1177/1754073912468165

Richter-Levin, G. (2004). The Amygdala, the Hippocampus, and Emotional Modulation of Memory. The Neuroscientist, 10(1), 31-39. doi: 10.1177/1073858403259955

Sturm, V., Haase, C., & Levenson, R. (2016). Emotional Dysfunction in Psychopathology and Neuropathology. Genomics, Circuits, And Pathways In Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 345-364. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-800105-9.00022-6

Sun, L., Peräkylä, J., Polvivaara, M., Öhman, J., Peltola, J., & Lehtimäki, K. et al. (2015). Human anterior thalamic nuclei are involved in emotion–attention interaction. Neuropsychologia, 78, 88-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.10.00

Van Bockstaele, B., Atticciati, L., Hiekkaranta, A., Larsen, H., & Verschuere, B. (2019). Choose change: Situation modification, distraction, and reappraisal in mild versus intense negative situations. Motivation And Emotion, 44(4), 583-596. doi: 10.1007/s11031-019-09811-8

Webb, T., Lindquist, K., Jones, K., Avishai, A., & Sheeran, P. (2017). Situation selection is a particularly effective emotion regulation strategy for people who need help regulating their emotions. Cognition And Emotion, 32(2), 231-248. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2017.1295922