Emotions and the Brain

Opinion CategoryI’ve recently started to think about emotions. I’m not a very emotional person. I guess I’m just like many other men. I admit that I’m stereotyping here so I hope you don’t mind. However, I often wonder why men and women tend to differ so much when it comes to our emotions. There are so many stereotypes and many of them seem to be true most of the time.

Do emotions come from our brains, our hearts, or from some other organ? Does it come from hormones and other chemicals circulating in our bloodstream? Perhaps that’s why people blame emotional flare-ups on variations on hormone levels. However, we all know that our brain ultimately controls our words and actions. How we react to our emotional flares are determined by our cognitive processes occurring in our brain.

BoxMen (or the stereotypical man) can easily compartmentalize their emotions and place them into a box. Those boxes may never get opened for many years. Although some people may do this subconsciously, others do it consciously and intentionally. Certain people don’t want to feel specific emotions. They hide from them and they use any type of rationalization (yes, from the brain again) to tell themselves that they don’t need to be emotional. Others feel that they are stronger if they don’t display emotions. Much of this is culturally rooted since young boys may grow up conditioned and trained not to display their emotions. In some cultures, the display of emotions may be a sign of weakness. In certain cultures, men are expected to be so stoic that they forget how to connect with their emotions. They become so detached and removed that they ultimately lack emotions. In the East Asian culture, men tend to be very unemotional. Many remain detached even from their families. Maybe that’s why they can disown their children for seemingly menial things and be unemotionally affected.

We must not forget that we also have psychiatric conditions where people don’t display emotions. Or, they may display inappropriate emotions. I think that people who have antisocial personality disorder are classic examples of individuals who may be so disconnected from emotions like guilt that they rarely (or never) display remorse for their wrongful actions. It’s actually quite frightening when you think about it. Some people have no conscience and they are able to do some horrific things and be totally unaffected emotionally.

So have you ever wondered why we have emotions? Do animals also have emotions? Some would argue that animals feel love, sadness, anger, and other emotions. Others may think that animals are unable to feel as many emotions as people and they only react to instincts. I think emotions help us from killing ourselves. How would you know to run from a roaring lion in the middle of the jungle if you didn’t experience fear? Emotions ultimately help us maintain social order if we’re connected with them and use them appropriately. So are you an emotional person? Or are you emotionally detached?

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH, is a physician, engineer, technologist, and avid writer. He enjoys writing about advances in technology that are revolutionizing healthcare. Dr. Kim studied engineering at MIT, then received his medical degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. He also has a master's degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health.
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