The Limbic System: Where All Emotions Come From
I’m developing two media projects for the better understanding of animals. For this purpose, I contacted one of my former profs of the Freie Universität in Berlin where I got great part of my education. He addressed me to a young member of the scientific staff who works on compared behavioral studies. When I talked to her, she made me aware that still scientists don’t accept the fact that animals have the same emotions as humans and refuse to support corresponding fights against animal abuse. She also told me that there are many who would, especially women, but that they’re silenced by the scientific community and that especially the women don’t dare to talk because they’re immediately labeled as “women with typical uterine behavior”. Or if they’re older, they’re labeled as “menopaused women who have temporary emotional disorders”.
These facts are even more outrageous if we consider that the reasons why animals have the same emotions as humans are absolutely simple and are to be found in the brain. The human brain consists of three brain parts, just like the brain of other mammals. What’s different is the latest evolutionary part, the so called cortex (and the cerebellum, which I won’t treat here as this concerns especially sea mammals and is a specific subject). What interests us especially in this context is the Limbic system.
The Limbic system is a lower part of the human brain. It consists of different elements on of which is called amygdala. The limbic system is one of the first parts that were developed in more primitive animals and is often called the „reptile brain“. This fact implies that it is common to all vertebrates who function all more or less according to the same basic instincts and with the same basic emotions. It is therefore incomprehensible how scientists can defend animal testing or any other animal abuse by saying that animals have no feelings or emotions. The definition of feelings is different from the one of emotions, yet it can’t be denied that higher vertebrates have all feelings humans have.
The following text illustrates the role the limbic system plays in the life of mammals and other vertebrates. Links to the sources will be provided further down.
Emotions, like fear and love, are carried out by the limbic system, which is located in the temporal lobe. While the limbic system is made up of multiple parts of the brain, the center of emotional processing is the amygdala, which receives input from other brain functions, like memory and attention.
Shaped like an almond, the amygdala is responsible for multiple emotional responses, like love, fear, anger and sexual desire. Shippensburg University states that in animal studies, stimulation or removal of the amygdala alters the emotional response: electrical activation causes aggression, while surgical removal results in indifferent emotional reactions. Therefore, damage to the amygdala can result in abnormal emotional responses, and overstimulation causes excessive reactions.
The hippocampus is another part of the limbic system that sends information to the amygdala. One of the memory processing centers of the brain, the hippocampus interacts with the amygdala when a person has memories with emotional ties. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research adds that the connection between the hippocampus and amygdala “may be the origin of strong emotions triggered by particular memories,” which explains emotional responses to traumatic memories.
The prefrontal cortex, located near the front of the head, is involved in decision making in response to emotions. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research states that the prefrontal cortex controls what decision a person makes when faced with an emotional reaction, and also regulates anxiety.
The hypothalamus, also a part of the limbic system, feeds information into the amygdala. Shippensburg University states that the hypothalamus acts as a regulator of emotion, controlling levels of sexual desire, pleasure, aggression and anger.
The cingulate gyrus acts as a pathway between the thalamus and the hippocampus, and plays a role in remembering emotional charged events. Shippensburg University notes that the cingulate gyrus focuses the attention on the event, alerting the rest of the brain that it is emotionally significant.
Ventral Tegmental Area
The ventral tegmental area is also involved in emotions and love, particularly in how a person perceives pleasure. Dopamine pathways are located in the ventral tegmental area: dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in mood, and increased levels elevate the person’s level of pleasure.
Living in the 21st century, animal abuse should be prohibited and abolished by law as it doesn’t correspond to our level of scientific knowledge and our rules of ethics.
If people say: we need animal testing because it assures our children’s survival, they have a very anthropocentric way of thinking. It’s a standpoint but they should at least be aware that they accept the unbearable suffering of other beings for man’s sake and stop saying that for animals it’s “not the same”. There is no other justification of animal abuse than the honest admission to be selfish and arrogant towards other species.
It’s a matter of choice, not of facts.