Thursday, September 18, 2008

your mind and your emotions

This post is going to be revised to be more engaging.

This post is mainly derived from Sad Brain, Happy Brain (Newsweek).

Emotions are such ephemeral intangible things that we experience that most of us have a hard time associating them to biology. However, advances in neuroscience has made it possible for us to study the workings of the mind and how biology is related to emotions.

Key points from the article:

  • Two deep brain structures called the amygdalae manage the important task of learning and remembering what you should be afraid of.
  • The fear system is extraordinarily efficient. You don't need to consciously register what is happening for the brain to kick off a response.
  • Fear is contagious because the amygdala helps people not only recognize fear in the faces of others, but also to automatically scan for it.
  • Anger may trigger activity in a part of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex
  • In the front of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex is recruited to help make decisions and temper emotional responses.
  • On average, men have a lower volume of gray matter (the bodies of nerve cells) in the orbitofrontal cortex than women. This brain difference seemingly accounts for a healthy portion of the gender gap seen in the frequency of antisocial behavior.
Sadness, Happiness
  • Brain activation in many parts of the brain. Sadness appeared to cause altered activity in more than 70 different brain regions. The amygdala and hippocampus both show up on this list, as do the front part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) and the anterior cingulate cortex. A structure called the insula (which means "island") also appears here—it is a small region of cortex beneath the temporal lobes that registers body perceptions and taste.
  • The brain regions on their list process conflict, pain, social isolation, memory, reward, attention, body sensations, decision making and emotional displays, all of which can contribute to feeling sad. The triggers for sadness also varies
Empathy, Love, Faith
  • Empathy is the ability to feel what another person feels, and in its most refined form it is the capacity to deeply understand another person's point of view.
  • It has its roots in fear detection. (E.g. detection of sincerity in smile by the presence of Duchenne lines)
  • More than an ability to mirror actions or sensations. It also requires mentalizing, or a "theory of mind".
  • Love: Areas that are deeply involved include the insula, anterior cingulate, hippocampus and nucleus accumbens— in other words, parts of the brain that involve body and emotional perception, memory and reward.
  • There is increase in neurotransmitter activity along circuits governing attachment and bonding, as well as reward
  • Romantic love turns down or shuts off activity in the reasoning part of the brain and the amygdala.
  • In the context of passion, the brain's judgment and fear centers are on leave.
  • Love also shuts down the centers necessary to mentalize or sustain a theory of mind.
  • Belief and disbelief activated different regions of the brain.
  • But in the brain, all belief reactions looked the same, whether the stimulus was relatively neutral: an equation like (2+6)+8=16, or emotionally charged: "A Personal God exists, just as the Bible describes."

Questions to consider:

With respect to fear, it would appears as if emotions happens before appraisal (before we are even conscious of the danger). Yet, how do the mind actually determine that it is a danger. The fact that we feel fear, implies that an evaluation of danger has been made.
Question about the appraisal theory. Does emotions come before appraisal or appraisal before emotion?
  • I'm inclined to think that there is some level of instinctual appraisal that happens before we feel fear, some level of evaluation kicks in before our physiological reactions of fear manifest themselves. After which we feel fear and then we make other higher-level appraisals: what, where, why, how? The detection happens unconsciously but the identification happens consciously.
What is the link between fear detection and empathy?

Why is it that with romantic love and passion, the reasoning and judgment centers of the mind are deactivated?

Why does our mind not differentiate things we belief in, whether emotionally charged or neutral?

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