When we speak of emotions like love, sadness, or joy, we often say it comes from our hearts. Actually,  Emotions come from the limbic system.  Knowing this fact can help you manage your emotions more effectively.

INSIDE OUT – More about the Limbic System

A few years ago, Disney created the movie, Inside Out.  The lead character, Riley, is guided by the five core emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness.  The emotions live in her “Head-quarters,” the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life as she deals with her emotions coming from stress and unmet needs.  This control center is the limbic system (or the mammal brain).

The movie helps us understand our brain center in a fun way.  Here is a clip to watch.

THE LIMBIC SYSTEM (Emotional or Mammalian)

The limbic system is called the mammalian, or emotional, brain and is a part of the brain that all mammals possess, but nothing lower, like reptiles.  It involves emotions, memory, and arousal.  It works with the rest of the areas of the downstairs brain to keep you alive.  It is our survival instinct.



  • The Limbic System evaluates sensory data (taste, sight, touch, smell, hear) in terms of emotions (joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness) that drive behavior required for survival.
  • It is primarily involved in the experience, memory, and expression of emotion.
  • It plays a dominant role in what persons believe is true, real, and important, telling the cortex “this is true, you can believe this.”   It’s why our minds can be fooled by VR – sight.
  • The downstairs brain controls subjective experience (experiencing something rather than intellectually thinking about it or knowing about it).
  • It is SUBCONSCIOUS.  We don’t really control it.
  • The limbic system can be triggered from:
    • Representations of the past (memories)
    • Representations of the future (worries, fantasies, hopes, etc.)
    • Input from sensory organs (the external world – sight, smell, touch, taste, sound)
    • A combination of these
  • There are five main emotions: Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust.  All other emotions can be categorized into these emotions.
  • There is a good side and a bad side to each emotion.  Does it dehumanize others?  Or does it bring humanity to others?
  • ALL MAMMALS HAVE A LIMBIC REGION IN THE BRAIN. It’s why animals can be used in therapy.


So when you “feel” something, don’t give credit to your heart.  Give credit to your brain.  Combining this knowledge with our understanding of other areas of the downstairs brain will empower us.  We can learn to regulate our emotions and make our brain work for us, as opposed to our emotions working us.


Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash