The Neuroscience of Emotions 🧠
What are emotions & how do they "work"?! 🤔 (8min read)
The 3 Parts of Emotions: Affect, Emotion, Feeling
The 5 Stages of Emotional Architecture
Food Poisoning & Emotions
How Imagination Effects Emotions
The Science of Emotions
The Name It to Tame It Emotional Regulation Tool
Welcome back to the Heroes Digest! Today we are talking about emotion, which is a hotly debated topic in Neuroscience & Psychology.
We will cover generally accepted information about emotions, and some of the latest research on the topic overall, let’s dive in!
What Are Emotions?
Defining what emotions are exactly is tricky, first of all, it helps to understand the difference between emotions, feelings & something called affect.
Let’s start with affect, this is the bodily experience of emotions & feelings.
For example, when you’re having a panic attack, your heart rate skyrockets, and your palms sweat, this is an affect of the emotion of fear.
Emotions happen very fast, start subconsciously, and don’t last very long typically.
They come in 6 broad categories: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness & Surprise.
This is one of the most basic models of emotion, but there are other models that add in other core emotions Shame, Interest, Guilt, etc.
For our purposes, we will use this basic 6 Emotion model because it’s more practical in its application.
Feelings are specific and often socially or environmentally learned as we grow up. Most of the time, we don’t even remember learning them.
Feelings take cognitive awareness to process.
This is because feelings are emotions processed with our thoughts, and the meaning those thoughts generate about the emotions.
Feelings are longer lasting than emotions or affect because our thoughts can continually bring them back up reminding us of the emotion & meaning we created.
Feelings & Emotions are often used interchangeably because they are so closely linked together, for the sake of this article, we will be using them interchangeably as well!
This brings us to a very important distinction.
Emotions are NOT built-in, they are built.
YOU generate your emotions & feelings, they are literally made by you!
Let's talk about how you do this.
Architecting Our Emotions
This model of emotional architecture is one of the most recent, and well-researched models.
In this model, the architecture of your experience & emotions happens in 5 stages:
Peripheral Response (Affect)
Let’s break them down, to do this, let’s pretend we are walking into a bakery.
The first thing that happens is Evaluation this is happening primarily subconsciously.
This is where we run what we’re experiencing through all of our past experiences, our values, & our goals.
For the bakery, you may have a past experience that involves you eating freshly baked cookies right out of the oven!
If that’s the case, your Peripheral Response or Affect might involve your mouth watering or stomach growling.
Next, your Motor Expression would be one of joy and excitement, so your face would brighten, you would smile, you’d have open gestures, etc.
In this case, your Action Tendency would be towards the pleasure of the cookies, and finally, your brain would have time to label your emotions as Feelings, maybe you even have a memory pop up of your mom or grandma pop into your mind.
This cascade of events would cause you to Feel happiness, joy, hunger, nostalgia, etc.
However, what if you had a past experience that involved you getting food poisoning from underbaked cookies from a bakery?
Can you imagine how all of the things we just talked about might change?
First is Evaluation again, however, this time when you subconsciously search through your past experiences you find one that involves you throwing up from the underbaked cookies.
Your Affect may switch to your stomach-churning, and your mouth feeling like you may vomit.
Your Motor Expression might change to one of disgust, your face would tight, you may frown, and your gestures would close off.
Next, your Action Tendency would be to move away from this experience & the cookies in front of you or the bakery altogether.
And finally, you may Feel sick, or grossed out.
Notice that even as you imagined this event, you may have actually felt some of the things described (my bad).
That is because this process works for real events or imagined events.
Emotions are predictions of past events, these predictions make up our emotions about present and imagined events.
Yes, even imagined events can generate emotions, and you can manipulate these real events with your imagination to change the emotions/feelings tied to them using your thoughts.
In fact, this is a process we will utilize with our clients at Rewrite & Rise!
In extreme cases like PTSD or Anxiety, our mind has a past experience that is so powerful that it hijacks this 5 Step process, and sends us into a full-on anxiety attack before we are even consciously aware of what’s happened!
Processes like Somatic Experiencing & EMDR help those suffering from these kinds of things regain control of this process.
The Science of Emotions
Emotions are some of the most complicated things our brains generate on a daily basis.
This makes them hard to classify, and even harder to pinpoint in the brain.
In fact, no one emotional experience is the same from person to person, even in identical twins!
There is a lot of old science out there that tries to hone into specific neural firings equaling certain emotions, or specific brain regions being active meaning specific emotions are being felt.
This is not supported by the most recent research. Emotions are a whole-brain & body process that is unique to each individual.
Every one of us has a unique set of experiences that make us who we are and create our reality, so trying to pinpoint or generalize our emotions is futile at this point.
That being said, there are brain circuits & regions that are heavily involved in most emotional responses, like the limbic system, amygdala, and hippocampus which you may have heard of.
This knowledge of emotions gives you a certain responsibility once you learn it.
YOU, no one else, is the architect of your reality and experience.
It is your responsibility to own your emotions, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Name It to Tame It
This wouldn’t be the Heroes Digest if I didn’t give you an actionable tool to help you accept this responsibility!
One of the best tools for owning your emotions that I’ve found while working with my clients is something we call, “Name It to Tame It.”
If the name didn’t already give it away, this process involves naming our emotions!
I’m not talking about just using emotional words like Anger or Happy, I’m talking about real names!
For example, my Anxiety is named Mamba. I’ve had a client who named her Anger, Sunny!
When picking a name, make it funny or something that has meaning to you.
Be creative, there are no limits to what you can name them, I’ve heard hundreds of different names.
Once you’ve got a name, think back to the Emotional Architecture process:
Peripheral Response (Affect)
Go through each step and journal out what’s going on in each inside of your mind.
For example, if you struggle with Social Anxiety ask yourself:
What past experiences have made this emotion come up?
What are the bodily sensation (affect) that accompany this emotion?
How does my body expression change? (Crossed arms, eyes down, slouched posture)
What is my action tendency with this emotion? (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn)
What feelings accompany this emotion?
By naming your emotion, and journaling about when it comes up, your brain is more likely to consciously detect it before it becomes overwhelming.
Research shows that naming your emotions like this releases their grip on you.
This is a great tool for increasing your Mental & Emotional well-being!
Do you have an emotion in mind already? Mention me on Facebook or LinkedIn with your emotion & the name you picked out, I would love to hear!
Thank you for tuning in for today’s Heroes Digest, I hope it was helpful, and that you can use this in your daily life.
Until next time… Live Heroically 🧠