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Human Emotion and Motivation - Biological Basis of Behavior.

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Human Emotion and Motivation

Biological Basis of Behavior


        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.

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        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). Likewise, the hypothalamus is a key concept in the Cannon-Bard theory, which links it as an essential component of the rage response. They discovered a raged response could only be produced with extremely intense stimuli and even then, the results were not typical (LeDoux, 1998).

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        Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ error: emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

        Damasio, A.R. & Hoesen, W.V (1983). Emotional disturbances associated with focal lesions of the limbic frontal lobes. In K.M. Heilman & P. Satz (Eds). Neuropsycholgoy of Human Emotion (Vol. 1, pp85-108). New York: The Guilford Press.

        LeDoux, J. (1999). The emotional brain. Phoenix: Orion Books Ltd.

Pinel, J.P.J. (2003). Biopsychology. (5th Ed). Boston: Allyn & Bacon

        Martin, G. (1998). Human neuropsychology. London: Prentice Hall Europe.

        Parkinson, B. & Colman, A.M. (1995). Emotion and motivation. London: Longman

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