A simple view of the human brain is that it has three major parts that link to evolution. The oldest is the brainstem, sometimes called the reptilian brain, which manages our vital automatic systems like our heartbeat, breathing, and senses. Then the mid, or mammalian brain, which among other things, has to do with emotions, followed by the neo-cortex where cognitive processing like thinking occurs. Emotions evolved before the development of language and symbolic thought and have three main functions: to warn us that something needs attention; to drive us to act, and to show others how we are feeling. Interestingly, recent research shows that many mammals share these. For instance, pet dogs can recognize human emotions from facial expressions.
Emotions also have three different characteristics: subjective experience, like what it’s like to feel angry, changes in physiology, like the increase in adrenalin, and behaviour like facial expressions. Although all human experience comes through our relationships with people, things, and situations, it’s how these are perceived and resonate emotionally that makes the difference. For instance, if a cause like child poverty makes us feel something, then we are more likely to act on it.
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