How Emotions Affect the Brain

Dr. Patricia Thompson
A free video tutorial from Dr. Patricia Thompson
Corporate Psychologist, Executive Coach, and Author
4.6 instructor rating • 1 course • 17,783 students

Lecture description

In this lecture, I explain how our emotional reactions affect our brains, behaviors, and relationships.

Learn more from the full course

21 Day Crash Course in Emotional Intelligence

Increase your E.Q. and transform your relationships with psychologist and author, Dr. Patricia Thompson.

03:34:53 of on-demand video • Updated July 2020

  • Define emotional intelligence and explain why it is so important for success in all sorts of relationships - whether personal or professional.
  • Identify the four aspects that compose emotional intelligence.
  • Increase their level of self-awareness by understanding their individual personalities and the impact they have on others.
  • Manage their emotions to enhance their relationships with some practical strategies.
  • Better understand others' personalities and increase their ability to empathize with those around them.
  • Build better relationships with stronger communication and an enhanced ability to manage conflict.
English [Auto] So in this lesson we're going to be talking about how emotions affect your brain. And this is a really important thing for you to understand so that you'll know why it's so important to manage your emotions to be effective. But why it can sometimes be challenging to do. And so this is a way in psychology that we explain about how our emotions can affect our higher level thinking. And basically the way it's conceptualized is that we have three brains the reptile brain the mammal brain and the angel brain. So let's start with the reptile brain. Now the reptile brain is the part of the brain that is the thalamus and the brain stem. And basically it's a part of the brain that becomes dominant when we feel like we're under attack. So imagine your fight or flight reaction like if you happen to run across a bear. Let's say it jumped out in front of you and immediately you would have the reaction that you either wanted to fight although hopefully not or flee. And so the reptile brain is a part of the brain that's responsible for that. And this part of the brain is really guided by your instincts. And like I said it becomes a driver when you feel like you're under threat. And so when the reptile brain is active what it does is that it scans the environment for potential threats. OK so that is the reptile brain. Then we have the mammal brain which is also known as the limbic system and it is basically our emotional brain. And so this is a part of our brain that's associated with negative emotions that come instinctually like anger or fear or anxiety but it's also associated with positive emotions like love or curiosity or are. And then finally we have the angel brain which is also the part of the brain that's called the neocortex. And so this is a part of our brain that's associated with problem solving with making decisions with planning and with engaging in complex tasks. And so this is a part of the brain that really allows us to make decisions to think about consequences to have perspective. And so it's our higher level thought that occurs in this part of the brain. OK. Now think about a time when you're stressed so when you're stressed that means that you're perceiving some sort of a threat in the environment. And at that point it's your reptile brain that tends to take control. And so that part of the brain is focused on taking action as opposed to thinking in a higher level way. And so that explains why when we feel threatened we often engage in behaviors that we otherwise might not do. Right. So you know at those points our neocortex is basically standing by quietly while our more primitive instincts to fight or to flee are running the show and definitely the reptile brain has an important purpose. Because if you think about it if you were getting attacked by a bear while that's not the time to be pondering the meaning of life or writing poetry that is the time to be taking action. But unfortunately with the way that stress works often we're perceiving immediate threats in our environment when there aren't any there. And so at that point that's when having the reptile brain leading the show is not very adaptive or effective. So let's think of an example. So let's say that you're in a relationship with someone you know whether it's a work relationship or perhaps a significant other and maybe they do something that you perceive negatively. Maybe they say something to you and you take it the wrong way or maybe they say something that you did take the right way but it's a negative thing. And so immediately what happens is that you get a stress reaction going your reptile brain is running the show. And so you might start to feel anxious or maybe angry in response to what they've said to you. And as a result of that you might find yourself saying something that maybe later on you wish you hadn't. And that would have been because your reptile brain had taken control and your brain your neocortex was just sitting back not thinking about the consequences not thinking about the most appropriate thing to say in that circumstance. And so it's a challenge when we have those negative emotions because it causes our neocortex to take a back seat or it can unless we learn how to make that not happen. Now if you look at the way that the brain is designed it's kind of hardwired to give our emotions the upper hand. So think if your spinal cord that comes up right to the back of your neck. And so everything that you see or smell or hear or taste or touch comes to your brain in the form of electrical signals at the spinal cord. And basically what they're doing is they're passing on until they reach your brain so they enter your brain through the spinal cord. Right. And if you think about how the brain works it passes through the limbic system or the emotional part of your brain your mammal brain before they reach the frontal lobe and the frontal lobe again is where the angel brain is. And so basically our brains are kind of hardwired to give our emotions first dibs on things. And that's why you frequently experience things emotionally before your sense of reason can kick in. And so it might sound like based on what I'm saying that we're all kind of slave to our emotions and that there's no way to be able to step back from them. But obviously that's not true because we know people who are able to do that maybe you're able to do it yourself sometimes. And why that is is because luckily for us E. Q can be developed and by increasing your self awareness and learning to regulate your thoughts and your physiology you can learn to be intentional about how you're relating to other people. And so some of the things that you can do are to learn specific behaviors but there are some things that we're going to talk about too in terms of how you can manage your body in a way that's going to make it more likely that you can engage the angel part of your brain when you're interacting with others. There's also a process called neuroplasticity and what that is is it basically means that our brains can be rewired based on how we use them. And so what that means is that if across time you're intentional and you're practicing to respond in different ways in response to stimuli in the environment then your brain is going to get more practiced in reacting and those constructive ways two things in the environment and across time. What you're going to do is develop a less emotionally reactive brain that's all across time it's going to become easier and easier to be smooth sailing in response to negative stimuli in the environment. OK. So that's it for how emotions affect the brain and in the next lesson we're going to get into the meat of emotional intelligence. And we're going to focus on self-awareness. And in that lesson I'm going to talk about what it is more specifically and how you can go about increasing it to have a higher IQ. So I will see you there.