Human Emotion and Motivation - Biological Basis of Behavior.

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Human Emotion and Motivation Biological Basis of Behavior 19/12/03 Emotions and motivations are a vital influence on everyday human life. Emotions are something that everyone experiences and understands, at least in simple terms. In addition, motivation is also something that is understood in laymen terms. Most people would probably describe it as the force that makes them work extra hours to earn a promotion or stay up all night to finish a paper so they are able to earn good marks. Humans are constantly feeling emotions and consistently experiencing a motivating force. However, the actual cause of what makes someone afraid or what causes one to eat food is an area that is only beginning to be understood by scientists. Theories have been developed and altered on a consistent basis, but still there are no definitive answers to these questions. A brief history of those past theories is explored for the purpose of giving insight into the modern theories that scientists have developed. This paper will then explain that the limbic system's existence in the human brain is questionable, however, the limbic system will still be referred to as a system in the human brain to create consistency and understanding.


If the limbic system was conceptualized as a system created through evolution to accommodate the advances of mankind, then the finding of the limbic system in "lower" species must disprove the existence of the limbic system altogether (LeDoux, 1998). This paper will continue to use the term "limbic system" for simplicity and constancy reasons. Moreover, not every function in the limbic system is involved with emotion or motivation (LeDoux, 1998). The brainstem, hippocampal system, and amygdala are key factors in emotion (Martin, 1998). The limbic system is also known for being responsible for motivated actions such as fleeing, feeding, fighting, and sexual behavior. Other major parts of the limbic system include the mammillary body, fornix, cingulate cortex, septum, hypothalamus, and olfactory bulb (Pinel, 2003). The amygdala and hypothalamus are two structures that often receive much attention when it comes to emotion and motivation. The amygdala is a vital element in the production of fear. It also assists in maintaining anxiety and many other emotions (Martin, 1998). This structure has been proven to be an essential link in the emotion processes, but not the limbic system (Pinel, 2003). Unilateral or bilateral damage to the amygdala has proven a severe handicap in patients trying to recognize the expression of fear and possibly other emotions (Martin, 1998).


The limbic system's existence is created through a faulty evolutionary explanation. Furthermore, the structures in the limbic system are varied and only a portion are involved in emotion and motivation processes. These structures, specifically the amygdala and hypothalamus as well as others, are interconnected with endless structures and systems within the human brain. These connections construct the processes that create emotional experiences, emotional expressions, and motivations. A disruption from any link in a connected chain of events will have an effect upon the expected outcome. Therefore, even an essential structure such as the hypothalamus must rely upon other systems to perform its task otherwise it would be expected that the hypothalamus is capable of performing every function within the human brain system. Current research is making remarkable advancements in this area. Future research should continue to narrow the focus of where human emotion and motivation roots are planted within the human brain as opposed to already assuming it is created from the limbic system. To assume the foundation of such a controversial issue is limiting the possibility of substantial findings. The theory, as it stands, does not allow predictions of emotion and motivation to be made (LeDoux, 1998). A new, revised theory of human emotion and motivation is needed so predictions can be made.

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