Brain and Behavior

Frontal Control of the Limbic System

How does the frontal lobe control the limbic system?

The frontal lobe serves to control the limbic system. Correspondingly, thought serves to control emotion. The frontal lobe is richly connected to brain regions throughout the limbic system and many frontal lobe neurons that connect to limbic regions have inhibitory effects. Emotions are blunt instruments—they are very fast, but not very precise. The frontal lobe helps us refine our emotional responses; to ensure that our responses are proportional to the situation. This is done with the use of thought, by interjecting thought between emotion and response.

Sometimes cognitive analysis of the situation may increase the emotional response. Think of the times when your initial response to a situation was muted but then escalated the more you thought about what happened. On the other hand, cognitive analysis frequently serves to dampen the emotional response by helping the individual consider the consequences of acting on emotions. (If I punch him, he might punch back. If I quit my job, I won’t be able to pay my rent.) Cognition also helps people consider alternative explanations for a situation. (Hmmm, maybe this wasn’t an insult. Maybe he just didn’t see me.)


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