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The Simple Dictionary of Emotions

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What are emotions?

Put simply, emotions are a way to process information.

Sensory organs (such as the eyes, ears or skin) capture information from the environment for your brain to process and convert into actions. While the inner workings of the brain and how it deals with information are much more complex, we would simplify them as follows.

The brain has three ‘parts’ that it uses to process information:

The Cortex is responsible for higher functions such as reasoning and planning and it is the most accurate and slowest means of processing information. It is the outer layer of the brain and the last to develop on the evolutionary timeline.

The Limbic System is responsible for creating memories, and emotional processing, and it is much faster than the cortex, but also much less complex and reliable. It enables us to process vast amounts of information without rationally analysing all of it (which would take too long).

The Brainstem (or the Old Brian) deals with the minute details of your body’s functioning, such as regulating heart rate and breathing, adjusting sleep cycles etc.

When your brain is presented with external stimuli (e.g. you see a piece of cake), it could process them either through what is called ’the high road’, which involves both the cortex and the limbic system (in which case while your limbic system would quickly conclude that the cake is nutritious and delicious, and should be eaten right away, your cortex will also consider the more complex, long term implications such as whether it is healthy or not, whether you should save it for later or whether it will have an impact on your weight and if that matters to your long term goals). Information could also process stimuli through the low road, which only involves the limbic system and analyses things within its limited capabilities.