Jake Richardson April 17 2018

Your Brain on Emotion


Have you ever heard the claim the most people only use 10% of their brain capacity? Well, this idea is simply untrue, but comically enough many don’t seem to use our brains to check it out for ourselves. It might be a popular myth because we want to believe there could be some easy way to increase our intelligence greatly. However, our brains do many things other than processing information and thinking. They also generate emotion, observe it and moderate it, amongst other things. As we all know very, very well, emotion is an essential part of our lives, and yet it is both familiar and mysterious. It seems very tangible and omni-present and yet it can also remain nearly impenetrable. If you are the least bit interested in emotion, you may enjoy the following four short films very much. They are all stimulating at the level of intellect, but emotionally as well. If you are fascinated by love, you might especially appreciate the last one in particular.

Limbic (Directed by Manfred Borcsh)


Limbic refers to the limbic system which is a set of brain structures that regulate emotion. These structures are generally the hypothalamus, amygdala, thalamus, and the hippocampus. The amygdala is sometimes called the ‘alarm bell’ of the brain, and it is involved in the fight or flight response. Some people also call this the fight, flight or flee response. This music video is only 3 minutes, but the sensory and emotional stimulation goes far beyond the duration. Using a combination of textured, abstract and realistic and shadowy imagery with random sounds that are not pretty, the effect is quite unsettling in a fascinating way.

My Mind’s Eye: Controlling Our Fear, An Interview With Elizabeth Phelps (Directed by Alexis Gambis)

My Mind’s Eye: Controlling Our Fear, An Interview With Elizabeth Phelps ‚Äč

In this fluid, fast-paced non-fiction film the relationship between emotion and memory is explored in an infotaining manner. We might believe that memories are made in a process that is like an audio recorder capturing sound in a digital file, but our brains don’t form and store memories that way. They actually blend old and new information to produce something that is malleable and open to re-interpretation. We might believe our memories are completely accurate, but this belief is probably not true. Emotion also plays a central role in memory formation, and the more emotional intensity there is, the stronger and richer memories tend to be.

There may be periods to when memories are most vulnerable or most susceptible to alteration. This is good news, because therapeutic interventions could be applied during these periods to reduce suffering in people who have experienced disturbing or traumatic situations.

Love, Hate And Everything In Between (Directed by Alex Gabbay)

Love, Hate And Everything In Between

This documentary investigates how human emotion and understanding of it has the potential to transform individuals, communities and cultures. The film is divided into a number of sections and employs many interviews with a wide range of perspectives on the importance of empathy. One of the subjects mentions there might not be a downside to having a lot of empathy. Empathy might be the ‘stem cell’ of altruism, caring, generosity and compassion but is this view overly simplistic? Interdependence among social creatures is essential for survival and empathy helps us be sensitive to the needs and desires of others, but sometimes it can be used to manipulate and do harm. Psychopaths, for example, can understand other people, but naturally may not care about them. Some people who are low in empathy demonstrate potential to expand it and therefore may improve how they relate to others. When it comes to the groups we are in and identify with and people we perceive as being different, empathy can help us build bridges so we can understand and tolerate them. However, merely being in one group versus another can decrease our empathy without our knowledge. This films digs covers a range of human experiences and how empathy is related to them. It does this in a careful, reflective way that is never boring or overly self-important.

The Love Competition (Directed by Brent Hoff)

The Love Competition 

How could you talk about emotion without mentioning love? This film’s setting is Stanford University. The premise is simple: a number of research subjects imagine trying to love another person as much as they can. While attempting this great love their brain activity is monitored and evaluated using functional MRI. The research subjects are interviewed about their love experience and idea about what love it. These interviews alone make the viewing experience worthwhile. The ages range from 10 to over 70, so there is quite a different in personal love histories. After they are all finished they are interviewed again and many of them reported having very positive experiences. So who won the love competition...was it the 10-year- old boy who was going to try to focus on loving his newborn relative? Was it the young adult woman who mentioned meditation and shakras? Watch this movie to the end to find out!

About the author

Jake Richardson has enjoyed the outdoors and nature since he was 6-years-old in the woods of central Illinois and now lives in California not far from the John Muir house.

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