Here's the Brain Science Behind Your Emotional Mind

Explore how emotions influence our perception of time, energy consumption, and physiology. Delve into the connection between feelings, social interactions, and dietary intake, while unveiling how early experiences shape our emotional adult lives.

Here's the Brain Science Behind Your Emotional Mind
A profound moment of stress, illustrating the influence of emotions on time perception and physiological responses. Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

Are emotions just a byproduct of our subjective human experience or do they play a more pivotal role in our survival than we've ever imagined? The answer, dear reader, is as multilayered as our ever-fascinating human psyche itself.

The Role of Emotions in Time Perception and Survival

Emotions don't merely colour our daily experiences; they are key players in our perception of time. Picture this: your heart races in moments of sheer panic, and time seems to hang in an eternal limbo, as your hypothalamic neurons kick into overdrive. What's happening here is a sequence of biological responses that heightens your sense of time, thus allowing you to react more swiftly to potential threats.

This process, in essence, tinkers with our basic physiological functions like hunger, satiety, sexual desire, and even cardiovascular activity. It's like having a superpower that lets you interpret stimuli at lightning speed, all for the sake of survival. The secret agent behind this process? Clock genes.

Moreover, the quickening of time perception triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone often associated with love and bonding. In these moments of high-intensity emotions, the brain is prompted to engage more rapidly in pro-social activities such as empathy, cooperation, and solidarity. This essentially enables our emotional responses to contribute directly to our survival.

However, not all emotions affect time perception in the same way. While stress can accelerate our sense of time, sadness, particularly chronic melancholy, can make us feel as though time is dragging. Ever noticed how the minutes seem to creep by when you're feeling down? That's your brain's way of reflecting your emotional state in your perception of time.

Emotions and Energy Usage

Interestingly, emotions aren't one-size-fits-all when it comes to energy consumption. Take sadness, for instance, or its physical manifestation, crying. These emotional states amp up the consumption of glucose and oxygen in the brain, thereby leading neurons to use more ATP. This phenomenon explains why we often feel exhausted after a good cry, which tends to be the fastest self-limiting emotion we experience. After crying, a sense of calm typically ensues, usually accompanied by an increased appetite, as crying expends significant energy.

Although emotions hold sway over our physiological responses, we can also turn the tables and consciously control our physiology to modify our emotions. By learning to manipulate our physiological reactions, we can achieve a sense of calmness or relaxation, potentially altering our emotional states.

For example, controlling our breathing can bring about relaxation, or a good laugh can help diffuse tension. Even a genuine, warm hug can help alleviate feelings of sadness. The power to change our emotions can literally be in our hands (or lungs, in some cases).

Comfort food is more than a tasty treat; it's a direct route to the brain's pleasure center.
Comfort food is more than a tasty treat; it's a direct route to the brain's pleasure center, helping to dissipate negative emotions. Image by Cindy from Pixabay

Just as we find comfort in a warm cup of cocoa on a cold day, our brain relishes the soothing effects of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine – neurochemicals often associated with pleasure and happiness – that are released after food intake. Consuming carbohydrates, in particular, can heighten the production of these chemicals, leading to a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone.

Ever found yourself instinctively reaching for a chocolate bar during a bout of the blues? Well, your brain associates that sweet treat with a surge of pleasure, and that simple action can sometimes be enough to help dissipate your anger or sadness.

Understanding emotions is crucial in social processes as well. Positive emotions exchanged between coworkers or between friends can provide a sense of comfort and foster stronger social networks. However, chronic stress can make the brain less sensitive to others' displays of sadness, effectively reducing our capacity for pro-social behaviors.

Moreover, emotions can serve as significant markers for certain personality disorders. For example, phobias might exhibit as disproportionate fear, while disgust could be a prominent feature in anxiety states. The quest for happiness, though seemingly universal, can be hindered by biases and past experiences. On the brighter side, research suggests that positive emotions contribute to better health, resilience to depression and stress, and even a longer lifespan.

Formative Years and Emotional Wiring

Childhood experiences, especially between the ages of 8 and 12, play a significant role in determining our emotional responses as adults. This crucial stage witnesses the dynamic connectivity between cerebral amygdala, cingulate gyrus, and hippocampus. Negative experiences such as violence, humiliation, or abandonment can alter these neural connections, leading to a higher likelihood of violent behaviors or anxiety in adulthood.

In contrast, children exposed to healthy emotional environments are likely to grow into adults with greater emotional stability, even in chaotic societies. This underscores the profound importance of nurturing positive emotional experiences during formative years.

In conclusion, emotions, with their ability to alter time perception, energy consumption, and physiological processes, serve as critical survival tools. They shape our social interactions, influence our health, and mould our personality. As we continue to delve into the labyrinth of our emotional psyche, one thing remains clear: our emotions make us intrinsically human.

In-Text Citation: Calixto, Eduardo. “Emociones En El Cerebro | Emociones En El Cerebro |