Have you ever wondered where emotions come from and why we experience them? Today, we’re talking about emotions, the biology of emotions, and, specifically, the neurobiology of emotions called the “Three Primary Emotion” Theory.

Early Studies on the Neuroscience of Emotions

For a number of years, neuroscientists have proposed that there’s a locus or a location within the brain where certain emotions reside. They’ve looked at this through fMRI scanners where they’d hook people up, and the people would experience some sort of emotion like fright, gratitude, or anxiousness. What they started to discover is that different parts of the brain would light up during the different emotional experiences, which showed them that there wasn’t necessarily one specific area in the brain where that emotion started from — or resides.

What Is the New “Three Primary Emotion” Theory?

Now, neuroscientists are looking at what they’ve coined the “Three Primary Emotion” hypothesis. Similarly to three primary colors that our eyes can see — red, green, and blue, which allow us to see a wide spectrum and range of colors — there are three primary emotions that have the beginnings of different pathways that allow us to experience a range of different emotions. 

In essence, the three primary emotions that neuroscientists are hypothesizing lead to all of these other emotions are:

  • Dopamine. Dopamine is the neural modulator that drives us towards getting things and getting rewarded, whether it’s food or a promotion.
  • Serotonin. 5 HT is hydroxytryptamine, but it’s easier to remember simply as serotonin. They’re discovering that there are emotions related to let’s say, disgust or punishment related to that. 
  • Norepinephrine. Norepinephrine, which we know as that typical fight-flight type of emotion when we experience fear or anxiety.

Other neuromodulators, or secondary pathways from the primary three, like cortisol and oxytocin, also play a role in our emotions.

The Importance of Understanding the Biology of Emotions

Why is this relevant? Understanding the biological formula behind your emotions can help you manage them more effectively. For example, if you’re experiencing any number of emotions — maybe you’re feeling anxious or frustrated — recognizing that it’s a norepinephrine overload that’s responsible for that fight-flight feeling can help you identify solutions that will work best for you. Whether it’s simple breathing exercises, physical activity, or sleep, experimenting with different strategies can help reset your chemical makeup so that you can dial up the formula that can help you achieve your desired emotional state.

Experiment With the Three Primary Emotions Formula

In essence, emotions are like a biological formula, and by experimenting with and understanding this formula, you can discover how to control and better experience the emotions that work best for you. So the next time you’re dealing with frustration, anger, or anxiety, take a moment to consider the biology behind it and experiment with techniques to optimize your emotions. Gain control of your emotions and unleash your full potential. Give it a try and enjoy experimenting with that!

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