Emotions Related To Autonomic Nervous System Function

Strong emotional feelings are often associated with most autonomic responses. Coordinated parasympa-thetic responses evoke a "vegetative" state that generates an overall relaxed, pleasurable feeling. They are often linked to eating behavior and can be triggered by food-related sensory stimuli, such as seeing or smelling appetizing food. The opposite is true for coordinated responses from the sympathetic division of the ANS. In this case, sympathetic pathways coordinate protective responses, preparing the individual to flee from a perceived danger or to engage in aggressive behavior. In response to heightened sympathetic activity, the individual will experience feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger.

In the two cases given above, stimuli for parasym-pathetic and sympathetic responses are external

A. Medial view of areas controlling the autonomic nervous system amygdala hypothalamus urinary bladder control pneumotaxic center cardiac acceleration & vaso constriction cardiac slowing respiratory center

B. Flow of information controlling the autonomic nervous system

FIGURE 1 Neuronal circuits of mood that link emotional experience with emotional expression. (A) Medial view of the brain; areas controlling the autonomic nervous system are shown in blue. (B) Two major inputs to autonomic nuclei in the brain stem arise from the amygdala and the hypothalamus. A third originates from visceral organs and taste receptors, then projects to the solitary nucleus and then to the brain stem.

FIGURE 1 Neuronal circuits of mood that link emotional experience with emotional expression. (A) Medial view of the brain; areas controlling the autonomic nervous system are shown in blue. (B) Two major inputs to autonomic nuclei in the brain stem arise from the amygdala and the hypothalamus. A third originates from visceral organs and taste receptors, then projects to the solitary nucleus and then to the brain stem.

(i.e., availability of food or perceived danger). However, it is also possible for internal cues to trigger autonomic reflexes. Recalling past experiences that were particularly pleasurable or anxiety producing can cause strong para-sympathetic and sympathetic responses. The autonomic nervous system provides the major mechanism by which elements of mood and emotion are expressed by the body. Other structures in the central nervous system (CNS) participate in generating the emotion, but much of their output is routed through the ANS to appropriate target tissues.

Interestingly, the strong link between the ANS and emotion has led to two opposing theories regarding the emotional experience of fear. The more conventional, the James-Lange theory, holds that fear is experienced in response to perception of danger and activation of appropriate cortical areas and that the resulting sympathetic response is triggered after the fright is experienced. The more controversial theory, the Cannon-Bard theory, suggests that the presentation of a frightening stimulus leads first to a sympathetic response. The change in the body's sympathetic-parasympathetic tone then is monitored by higher centers in the CNS, and it is this change that is synonymous with the emotional experience of fear. In other words, the sympathetic state itself is the trigger for the emotion. More likely, both theories are correct to some degree, with the perception of an external stimulus and a change in sympathetic tone both contributing to the emotional experience.

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Responses

  • arlo
    How is action potential related to emotions?
    7 years ago

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