Control of emotion

Genevieve Wanucha wrote a very interesting article in Seed magazine, “Emotion’s Alchemy”. (here)

Parvizi’s PLC (pathological laughing and crying) research has led him to believe that emotions, instead of being consciously controlled, are spontaneous reactions that rely on an intact involuntary brain system to be appropriately projected into the world. This distinction has major implications for our belief in self-control. Through cognitive neuroscience’s history, it’s been assumed that the brain’s evolutionarily newer frontal lobe regulates the more primitive regions of emotion, desire, and instinct, “as if there are beasts living in the basement, and the tower controls those beasts,” Parvizi says. He calls this an outdated Victorian-era bias that insists our free will should be able to conquer instinct. In fact, the brain’s structures are more interdependent. And those beasts of emotion are much, much more complex.

He says that we certainly can consciously control our expressions… We have both voluntary and involuntary systems, but it seems like the brain uses autopilot settings much more than conscious direction. “It’s an old notion that we regulate our behavior through a very conscious process, through a hierarchical top down process,” he says. “My idea is that we respond automatically in a context and that automatism is built partly from our culture.” In other words, early childhood socialization and lifetime experiences, coded into memories, factor into our automatic emotional responses. For example, in Japan, where emotional suppression is valued, people tend to avoid overt emotional displays. Parvizi acknowledges that this is an area wide open for debate. It is not yet clear, for instance, if those cultural pre-sets are stored in the cerebellum, or sent there from other brain areas.

More from this article in future posts.

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