Some versions of a possible answer to a rather intense question, sometimes, requires zoning in on a small section of what the probable answer to that question is. In this case, the ‘what’ is what we have decided to attribute to a collection of beautifully complex components of neuroanatomy making up the Limbic System. explained the limbic system in conceptual terms: “The limbic system is regarded as an integral system for relating information to emotion, forming motivations of behaviour, regulating autonomous and endocrine function, and consolidating memories.” This means that, at the very least, what we are, can be attributed to what connects to what, causing, to some extent, who we are, how we relate, respond and react.


Right brained vs. left brained (a crash course in neuroanatomy historical pop culture)

Brain lateralization research done by Roger W Sperry won him the Nobel Prize in 1960. This caused the popular cultural exaggeration of the findings, giving rise to the beliefs that you could be either left or right brained and that that, would contribute hugely to your personality or more specifically, whether you were analytical or creative.

Since then, medical science has progressed to understand that more research is needed to fully understand all factors which affect hemispheric dominance. Brain activity is not symmetrical and varies from person to person. That said, we can agree on the following;

The brain is divided into two hemispheres, the left and the right.

A recent study published online in 2018 showed that “emotions are processed asymmetrically by the human brain” with findings linking positive and approach-motivated tenderness with greater left hemispheric activation and “state-anger with greater right hemispheric activation through the analysis of frontal alpha asymmetry.” 

Using EEG recordings, scientists were able to understand that the left hemisphere is associated with positive emotions as well as social interactions in the sense that more activity is generated in that hemisphere when we experience engagement and joy. The right hemisphere proved to be more stimulated in terms of activity when things related to negative emotions such as fear and disgust were experienced.


Some important structures:

  • The Prefrontal Cortex, located in the front of your brain, directly behind your forehead, solves problems and manages behaviour; cerebral activities are considered to be what makes us human, understanding certain social cues such as planning complex cognitive behaviours, executive function and the expression of appropriate social behaviour.
  • The Temporal Lobe is where sound is processed and, not surprisingly, it is also a region where auditory language and speech comprehension systems are located.
  • The Frontal Lobe, the emotional control centre of the brain, is responsible for forming our personality and influencing our decisions.


And the finally, the cherry on our cake: the limbic system…

This refers to structures which play a role in regulating emotion. Although experts can’t agree on what makes up the full Limbic System, we are focussing on the 4 that everyone agrees on:

  • Amygdala: plays a part in controlling emotion, motivation, and memory. Anger, violence, aggression, fear and anxiety are all produced through stimulation of the amygdala.
  • Hippocampus: plays a role in creating and forming memories, your Short Term Memory conversion to Long Term Memory; invoking emotions and that associated with experiential processes.
  • Thalamus: functions as a sensory station, directing the sensory information received through our nerves, to other parts of the brain which makes sense as our emotions are greatly impacted by the things we see and hear.
  • Hypothalamus: located below the thalamus, is tiny, the size of a bean. It regulates many normative functions in the body as well as the autonomic nervous system which can be colloquially described as the fight or flight versus rest and digest components.


The historically incorrect “left-brained-person” may consider the above to be the answer to the question: “What am I”.

We now know that, based on the info above (and many more detailed articles and studies), that it is in fact not necessarily the case. What we can assert though, based on our research, is that we are all a collection of complex systems which essentially fire off at one another, communicating a lot of data which essentially contributes to what we are and who we are perceived as. In the never ending journey of self-realisation, our research took a more technical approach this month as we hoped to (partially) answer the question, what am I?

“What I am”, whilst having clear links to the question of “Who I am” seems to be just that, contributing and not decisive.

This Stanford Lecture by Professor Robert Sapolsky on Limbic Systems will greatly improve your ability to navigate complex neuroanatomical conversations and we would highly recommend it.

but perhaps, as an appetiser: we give you: The Brain (and Pinky)


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Feature Photo by David Matos on Unsplash

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