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Emotions and the brain

Help Book: The Neuropsychology of Anxiety - An Enquiry into the Function of the Septo-Hippocampal System Second Edition, Jeffrey A. Gray and Neil McNaughton, Oxford University Press, 2000, 440 pages Personality Personality
Les états anxieux, hystérie d'angoisse Fear Conditioning: How the Brain Learns about Danger LeDoux Laboratory Book: THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN by Joseph E. LeDoux
Book : Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Antonio R. Damasio, Avon Books, New York, 1994 Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety Briefing on the Brain-Body Connection: The Circuitry of Fear Anxiety: PSY128 Lecture Support Material
Friday the 13th: Unlucky Only for Women? Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions
Privée d'Emotions, la Mémoire Flanche - L'importance grandissante de l'étude scientifique des émotions
Original modules
Tool Module: Can the Study of Human Feelings Help Us To Understand the Emotions? Can the Study of Human Feelings Help Us To Understand the Emotions?
  Tool Module: Managing Stress   Managing Stress
  Experiment Module: Neuropsychologists Show How Emotions Affect Cognition and Decisionmaking   Neuropsychologists Show How Emotions Affect Cognition and Decisionmaking
  Tool Module: Cognition and Emotion: Two Distinct Concepts for Two Distinct Realities   Cognition and Emotion: Two Distinct Concepts for Two Distinct Realities
  Tool Module: Scientific Research on Emotions   Scientific Research on Emotions
  History Module: The Quest for a Theory of the Emotions   The Quest for a Theory of the Emotions
Tool Module: A Neuroanatomical and Psychological Model of Anxiety   A Neuroanatomical and Psychological Model of Anxiety

A neuroscientist gets drunk to explain alcohol’s effects on the brain

From the standpoint of evolutionary survival, anxiety and even anxiety attacks may well have had some benefits for the human species. Suppose, for example, that one of our ancestors was walking through a part of the forest where he had previously been attacked by a wild beast. He may not have noticed it consciously, but a feeling of anxiety or anguish triggered by his unconscious emotional memory may have encouraged him not to linger in this area again for too long. Similarly, the anxiety that we feel when we cannot see things at night might encourage us to hide in the back of a cave until dawn, rather than wander around the forest where predators might sneak up on us.

From a psychological perspective, fear, anxiety, and anguish are three different things. But they are related and may be regarded as three different degrees of the same state: the one that people experience when their sympathetic nervous system impels them to act, but action is in fact impossible.

Fear is a strong, intense emotion experienced in the presence of a real, immediate threat. It originates in a system that detects dangers and produces responses that will increase the individual’s chances of surviving them. In other words, it triggers a sequence of defensive behaviours. In humans, fear can also arise at the mere thought of a potential danger. The main neural pathways in which this defensive reaction originates are well known, as are the circuits at the centre of this natural alarm system: those in the amygdala.

Anxiety is a vague, unpleasant emotion that reflects some apprehension, distress, and diffuse fears about no one thing in particular. Anxiety can be caused by various situations. Some examples: having so much information that you cannot process it all; not having enough information, so that you feel helpless; having trouble accepting certain events, such as the death of a loved one; and experiencing other kinds of unpredictable or uncontrollable events in your life.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Anxiety can also result from a specifically human and hence neocortical process: imagining situations that do not exist but that you are afraid of. It is this anxiety of cortical origin that can be relieved by medications such as benzodiazepines, which potentiate the effect of GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the cortex.

While temporary anxiety is normal and has no lasting effects, persistent anxiety often inhibits us from taking action, and this inhibition can quickly lead to pathological conditions. Chronic anxiety can also disturb the performance of many cognitive functions such as attentiveness, memory, and problem-solving.

Though the word “anguish” comes from the same Indo-European root as “anxiety” (angh, meaning to tighten or compress), the two conditions differ in that anguish is always accompanied by physiological changes such as sweating, a racing pulse, and a feeling of suffocating, while anxiety is not.

Anguish is characterized by the intensity of the psychic discomfort experienced, which results from extreme uneasiness, a sense of being defenceless and powerless to deal with a danger that seems vague but imminent. Anguish often occurs in the form of attacks that are very hard to control. Victims have trouble analyzing the source of their anguish, and feeling the onset of the associated palpitations, sweating, and trembling only makes them more agitated. People who are experiencing anguish become focused on the present and can no longer perform more than one task at a time. They show signs of muscle tension and have difficulty breathing, as well as digesting their food.

Fear is a common, natural emotion. But when it gets out of control, it can lead to many different mental disorders. For example, generalized anxiety is a chronic fear with no particular trigger. Phobias are fears of specific things (such as spiders, crowds, or closed spaces), taken to the extreme. Obsessive-compulsive disorder often involves an excessive fear of something, such as germs, that drives individuals to engage in repetitive rituals to ensure that they do not come into contact with the thing they fear. Panic attacks involve the sudden triggering of physical symptoms of distress, often accompanied by the fear of imminent death. Post-traumatic stress often occurs when a situation or stimulus reminds someone of a traumatic experience that they underwent long ago but that suddenly seems immediately present once again.

The stage fright we feel when we have to address an audience and the stress we feel when we are about to be put to a test where a lot is at stake are also forms of anguish, both of which generally dissipate as soon as the waiting is over and we begin the task at hand. Anguish can have a positive side, if it lets us mobilize our energies to give the best of ourselves at key moments. But once again, it becomes harmful if it paralyzes us and keeps us from taking action.
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