Are different emotions in different areas of limbic system?

In summary, the paper argues that there are specific neurons that will be differentiated to do specific functions (e.g., "sad" neurons and "angry" neurons), and that these functions are not random but are instead set in place by early experience.
  • #1
Does anyone know if there has been any data on whether different emotions fire in different areas of the limbic system. Basically, are there "angry" neurons, and "sad" neurons, or to be more direct, neurons that fire exclusively when one is angry, and different neurons that always fire for when one is sad?

Additionally, a tag-along question could come: can we actually have more than one feeling at a time?
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  • #2
Please read the abstract of this paper from NIH pubmed link:
Note that lot of brain structures are cited as being involved in emotion. Limbic included.

Also realize that there is a phenomenon of neuroplasticity - anatomical structure A provides the function in question, while in some people structure B does the exact same task, so to speak. An example is an old study: PET scans were run to see areas of brain activity for people listening to music and other brain "functions". Native Japanese speakers used completely different regions for language and music compared to native English speakers. They ruled out genetics by later testing Japanese Americans who only spoke English - found their brain like English speakers. This means somehow leaning a language affects thew areas your brain uses for given function.

Assuming what I said above is reasonable - what then do you think of the idea that the brain works in finite predictable areas for a given function like [xxx]?
Would a good answer be sometimes, or most of the time? Does the answer 'always' fly well here? Or could it be that your textbook author in trying to make the topic understandable kind of ignored something? Or many somethings.

A possible analogy if you are a programmer: you cannot predict the physical address of various threads of execution of a single process ahead of time for a program running parallel in a multiprocessing system. If you think of human brain modeled as parallel multiprocesses, does that help?

Some of your questions, like this one, make sense in arthropods which have mostly ganglia hardwired to do certain tasks. Some things humans do can be viewed this way, however, a lot fall into the "not" category.
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  • #3
Thanks for your response jim! Really appreciate it.
Yes I am a programmer actually and that analogy made sense! I haven't read textbooks and extensive literature on this so I hope to get at least some good references to articles here that answer some of these questions and that article was great, thanks!

As for the topic, I guess I do need to specify the question a bit more and in the process even fully grasp what it is that I was asking.

One thing that I am not asking is whether we can predict in advance which exact area of the brain will do a specific function.

What I am asking is whether there are specific neurons that will be "differentiated" at some point to do specific functions. And I do recognize that we are not talking only about the limbic system, I should have been more careful with that. So the idea is not the exact placement, but a specific functionality that once it is set, it doesn't really move, as neurons retain their function with long term memory (as I understand it through Lakoff's work)

Sounds like that with japanese and english brains, the neural circuitry, even though completely different, between japanese and english, they were somewhat similar in each of the respective groups, showing that language itself was playing a part in shaping up the circuits?

If I were to think of an analogy, perhaps this would illustrate my question more precisely. If Japanese and English were designing a sailing ship, the ship would have its basic functionalities, but the ropes and sails would be somewhat different. Just like a ship needs a sail, so does the brain need its limbic area to do certain functions. After all, the main emotional processing gets done in the limbic and above mentioned areas of the brain, which are in a very specific area of each brain, not somewhere totally random.

Furthermore, the ropes that bind the sails will never fall on the same spot or might not be the same thickness, make, etc. But they serve the same functionality. Some boats might be missing a sail or a rope, and some might have some ropes doubled at random places for support, but the overall connectivity is set in place once the sail and the actual rope is made. At least until it breaks down and is replaced by another set of ropes and sails (or not...)

So, that is basically what I meant by a "sad" neuron, and an "angry" neuron, just like you would have two different ropes holding two different, yet specific sails, holding specific placement in the ship.

And then there is the follow-up question still, which is whether emotions run one at a time or whether there could me multiple ones firing at the same time. Sort of putting on one spinnaker, rather than two, because the boat doesn't handle two spinnakers at the same time.

Thanks again, I very much appreciate all your input!
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  • #4
icakeov said:
Additionally, a tag-along question could come: can we actually have more than one feeling at a time?

Can we see more than one thing at a time?
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  • #5
Not sure, apart from the fact that we have two eyes that gather two different streams of information, it really is just one stream of information. Unless the brain's working memory can focus on more than one thing in that stream of information at the same time time. That would technically mean that processing sight would be running in parallel? Or are just really quickly swapping from one to the other?

There are micro-emotions, so maybe it is all switching fast back and forth? Or perhaps, there are bunch of parallel processes running at the same time in subconsciousness, just like there is lots of things in the world to see, and our brain can only focus on one of those processes at a time? Or maybe we are able to attend to more than one emotion, which brings "mixed emotions" in?
  • #6
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  • #7
Great thank you Jim!
  • #8
There are always problems trying to pinpoint specific areas of function in the brain, its not really how the brain works. If you think about something like anger and dismantle it, there will be perceptual systems involved, these will be biased by certain memories or experiences towards particular stimuli, if something aversive or threatening is sensed (remember different sensory centres will be active in this, then attention is focussed and physiological arousal starts to increase. At this point we gather more information and appraise it, again in relation to prior experiences, if its of no significance all the activated systems are shut down, if its something preventing us meeting goals arousal might increase and we feel frustrated, anger is when we have someone or thing to blame for our feeling bad, its appraisal dependent and it includes a motivational state to attack the cause in some way and activates certain automatic behaviours. How likely is it a discrete area in the limbic system could deal with this, the brain is a continuous mass of activity and it takes considerable effort to identify any task specific activation, when networks of activity are identified, the same stimulus on a different occasion may look very different. Current scan technology is still not really fast or precise enough to claim precision despite the many claims.
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  • #9
Thanks Laroxe! That is very helpful.

I have realized that my title and initial question was a bit misleading after getting a few responses. Perhaps I can change the title.

I totally understand that it is a complex system that triggers different parts of the brain depending on circumstances.
At this point, the main question I'd like to frame in this thread is whether each of the neurons and the neural areas/circuits are bound to do the function they are doing, regardless where in the brain they may fall and whatever function they might have been assigned to do?
In this I would include all of the different systems that you mentioned: perceptual, different stimuli, arousal systems, and in particular, the different neural systems in charge of frustration, anger, or whatever other feeling might be called upon?
I am guessing the answer to this is yes, although I am also aware that it could change, yet again, due to environmental changes and brain development. I saw the article about a boy whose left hemisphere was taken out and the right hand hemisphere took on new roles to move the paralyzed part of the body.
(And if we look only within the limbic area, I am guessing all the neurons in there would behave similarly too)

And then finally, my understanding is that the brain is on "stand-by" to consciously "attend" to these processes that are responding to external and/or internal stimuli, one process at a time, but do bunch of emotions/complex processes still run in the background subconsciously, even if the brain is not giving it its full attention? My guess is that that would be a yes too.

Thanks again!
  • #10
I know there are some philosophical discussions about concepts of mind and self being a product of specific brain functions or of arising out of some sort of embodied gestalt which might be relevant to this but not being a philosopher it might as well be written in Sanskrit for me.
It makes sense that there will be neurones and groups of neurones that are specialised and that these may be located in areas that also have some functional relationships, however there are a few spanners in the works when it comes to making sense of all this. The first is in what you mention, the brain alters structurally in response to all sorts of things, people talk about plasticity, every memory involves changes at the cellular level and the brain can make massive changes in response to damage, this is most noticeable in the very young. Its also important to remember the word neurone refers to a set of cells which can look and act quite differently, I suspect the degree of specialisation will also be variable. The second and perhaps more significant one is the widespread view that the brain can be best understood in an evolutionary framework, because our brain shares features with other animals which are easier to study, some people attempt to make functional links and you end up with silly ideas like the reptilian brain being taken seriously. This ignored the fact that evolution is full of examples of recycling and re-purposing things already present, its likely that the basal ganglia and limbic structures in humans mainly function to coordinate how information is dealt with while setting up automatic preparatory responses. So I suspect looking at things like specific emotions may be to much, its more likely there will be sets of cells that deal with different types of increases in physiological arousal, in fact there are some differences in the patters of arousal between emotions so even this bit is sub divided. At the same time this is happening there are a whole set of other things going on, a coordinated network of activity, this network can be a bit like the telephone system, you can make a call to specific people but the route that call takes can change each time, so information is passed to all the relevant areas, but not necessarily by the same route each time.
Your also right in the fact that we have systems that process information very quickly and automatically and systems that are conscious and slower but more accurate. There do appear to be certain rules built into our perceptual systems anything that is perceived as a potential threat automatically captures our attention, we are particularly sensitive to sudden unexpected changes in our environment, intense stimuli like noise, we assume things that move independently are alive, these things capture attention but even these are subject to modification by experience. We become aware of things like a clock stopping if its always been ticking, our name also captures attention in a noisy room if someone says our name we pick it up. From a stimuli things become increasingly elaborate as to the functions our brain engages in and these functions are all influenced by complex feedback systems, there may be up to 10,000 other neurones attempting to influence the action potential of a single neurone and its also sat in a neuro/endocrine bath. I really must learn to shorten my posts. :)
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  • #11
This is great! Thank you Laroxe! Very helpful feedback and responses. And the post was perfectly not short!
  • #12
Laroxe, could you please post some sources for what you are posting. Not everything, but perhaps on some of the functions you mentioned. Thank you. :smile: It helps when we have the actual source of studies or research to refer to.
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  • #13
The processes you are asking about occur in a feedback cycle that involve many areas of the body. There is a cognitive component alongside the CNS that filters internal or external stimulation, which then can trigger the physiological response in the PNS (what you actually feel). Some responses do originate outside of the limbic system (some sexual response I think) and no emotion can be assigned to one single neuron. Neurons are not fixed, they can die and be replaced by another, they can move positions, connect to other neurons in different ways across the brain, and even under some conditions demyelinating areas have shown regrowth. So, there wouldn't be any advantage to having emotion dependent upon one little neuron. The physiological responses to "emotions" can interchange and are too similar to assign anyone set of symptoms.

The cognitive level is too unique of a reaction to assume all brains or all people are the same. We each carry very different responses to stimulus. Even patterns of innervation throughout one persons body is so unique that it will never be replicated by another person again. We have not even finished mapping possible locations for the entire lymphatic system, some people have missing or extra vessels! There may be regions thought or proven to be involved in some reflexive responses, but it isn't so simple as being able to assign the whole process to one neuron. These questions aren't going to get a technical response. Studying emotions borders more on psychology than neurology, they are too subjective. Neural responses to different stimulus can be studied, but you cannot establish too much when you have to rely on a person telling you what emotion they think that their body is feeling during a study.

Yes, you can hold multiple ambiguous thoughts at once. You could be annoyed with someone and still be able to maintain the composure you want. You could also be annoyed with that same person, for the same reason, but allow the PNS too much control and end up snapping at them. It's very difficult for the body to stop or control some responses once they begin.
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  • #14
I know, its my own fault, but this is a very big area and it involves a range of subject areas so I've tried to suggest a variety of information sources and related subject areas, that may help. First I think Fervent Faryja's post makes a great deal of sense. Evo asked for some sources this is a fairly eclectic mix

You might find the blog of this British Neuroscientist useful, he covers all sorts of areas and you can search for areas of interest.

Some issues with localisation of function in the brain.

This covers emotional processing

This gives a critique of some localisation studies

While this provides a more technical review of the Limits of fMRI KimS-G1999.pdf

Most of the other stuff will come from cognitive psychology

This introduces ideas about selective attention and arousal

This looks in more detail at dual processing – fast and slow

You might want to look at

Learning preparedness by Seligman

Other fast and slow processing /dual processing theories

Connectionist models in cognition and emotions & neuroscience

All the links are free but I have to stop, I'm loosing the will to live.:)
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  • #15
Thank you Laroxe, that was much more than I had expected! Your posts were great , it's just nice to sprinkle one or two links to articles or studies in case people wish to check for more information or to confirm for themselves what is posted.
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  • #16
This is fantastic! Thanks Laroxe for all the links, I am just going through them and it is all very much on topic.
And thanks Fervent Faryja! Great explanation how it all works together. I'll keep reviewing it all. This has all been full of insights.
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  • #17
I think it's great that you seemingly have a passion to understand how the brain works, icakeov. As far as understanding how emotions are represented in brain function, this is a very tricky operation. It's not so simply localized as, say, where does the brain represent the tactile sensation of the lips, etc. In my research, I've hypothesized that emotions stem from neural networks in the brain stem and limbic system involved in primitive or primal approach-avoidance behaviors that can be traced back to the simplest of animal creatures. These neural network "circuits" closely overlap with reward-punishment areas of the brain which, in turn, are inextricably linked with emotional feelings when these brain networks are excited. The exact "flavor" of the emotional subtly that one experiences in any given situation, e.g., fear, love, rage, jealousy, loneliness, happiness, etc., is a complex interplay between these, what we call "salience" subcortical neural networks and the more cognitive-related cortical systems.

As far as "where" different emotional centers are located in the brain/limbic system, I think the best you can garner at the present time is that the more positive emotions are going to be linked to reward-related areas of the brain and the the more negative emotions are going to be linked to the punishment areas of the brain.
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  • #18
Great, thanks DiracPool! That is very helpful and clear. I understand now that emotions arise through an extremely varied combinations of different neural network areas that do a variety of different tasks for the brain. :)
  • #19
I found a pretty neat page that shows pretty descriptive videos of some neural pathways.
And I've read the analogy that neural pathways are like gradually creating new paths in the woods. [Broken]
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1. What is the limbic system?

The limbic system is a complex network of brain structures that are involved in regulating emotions, memory, and motivation. It is often referred to as the "emotional brain."

2. Are different emotions controlled by different areas of the limbic system?

Yes, different emotions are controlled by different areas of the limbic system. For example, the amygdala is responsible for fear and aggression, while the hippocampus plays a role in memory and learning.

3. How does the limbic system influence behavior?

The limbic system plays a crucial role in influencing behavior through its control of emotions. It also helps to regulate our response to stress and plays a role in decision-making and motivation.

4. Can damage to the limbic system affect emotions?

Yes, damage to the limbic system can greatly affect emotions. For example, damage to the amygdala can result in a lack of fear and aggression, while damage to the hippocampus can impact memory and learning.

5. Are there any differences in the limbic system between individuals?

Yes, there can be slight differences in the size and structure of the limbic system between individuals. These differences can impact how emotions are experienced and expressed, as well as how individuals respond to stress and make decisions.

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