ME ANGRY? NAH –
it’s all in my head!
PREVIOUS: Anger & the Brain (Part 3)
ANGER on the brain
A normal amount of anger is necessary & appropriate to function well in personal relationships & in the outside world. The brain processes anger as stress, so it prepares us for the eventuality of fight-or-flight, by elevating blood pressure, cortisol, serum glucose levels etc. A certain level of arousal is vital for efficient remembering, but when it’s too high, (as when we’re very angry) it seriously diminishes the ability to concentrate, making it hard to remember details of really explosive arguments.
◆ The orbito-frontal cortex (OFC), the lower part of the prefrontal lobes, integrates sensory information from various other parts of the brain, such as weighing the value of reward-to-action, combining sensory input that turns taste into flavor….
Damage to the OFC can result in addictive behaviors (over-eating, gambling…), so that the immediate thrill of a vice is chosen over the greater rewards of health & stability. And changes in this area can distort our understanding & interpretation of sensory experiences, which in turn distort how we act when angry.
◆ In a Harvard study of anger & the brain, MRIs of normal people showed that anger increases blood flow activity to:
> the amygdala, which deals with emotion & vigilance, as well as —
> the cortex, which can cool the ‘heat’ of responses from the central & primitive parts of our brain, allowing a person’s conscious will to decide how to respond or inhibit acting on them altogether.
However, some severely depressed people don’t have the correct balance of brain activity, so are not able to recognize & control their anger, which can lead to violent rages. (Darin Dougherty, Asst. Prof.)
SITEs: “Trauma response to Anger” // “Brain and Development effected after Child Abuse”
◆ Researchers at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Calgary discovered that one of the effects on the brain of anger is that neurons in the hypothalamus can become compromised. Normally these neurons receive chemical signals that prompt them to either switch on or off.
Neuro-transmitters produced when we feel angry interfere with these functions, jeopardizing the brain’s ability to slow oneself down, by blocking the growth of new neurons & causing the death of existing neurons – leading to depression, memory impairment & learning problems.
“Happiness Hormones” are mono-amines, the main neurotransmitters (how neurons transfer an impulse between them over a synapse) which animate the brain.
They’re associated with a variety of moods, playing a vital role in feeling thinking & acting. When they are up & running correctly, they produce a sense of well-being. They include:
Serotonin, involved in emotion, overall mood, & keeping aggressive social responses in check. When low, it’s harder to control our reactions when we’re angry
Dopamine is released to go for something good or avoid something very bad. It determines how angry we get when upset
Nor-epinephrin (nor-adrenaline) prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’’.
√ Depressed people have Lower levels of this hormone
√ Get a ‘rush’ from combined epinephrine & nor-epinephrine
SITEs: “Leadership chemicals” (scroll down) / “Meet your Chemicals” (cute slides)
BTW: Normally, when we get angry, frustrated or feel other ‘uncomfortable’ emotions – because of some real or perceived danger – the adrenals quickly release the catecholamines Dopamine, Epinephrine & Nor-epinephrine, (in a 80%-20% proportion). They prepare the body for ‘fight or flight’, so we can deal with whatever is causing the anger, but can also lead to acts of aggression in some situations.
✤ Interestingly, these same chemicals are also generated by fear. It’s one reason that FEAR & ANGER are directly opposite each other on the Plutchik wheel of emotions. (POST : “Identifying Emotions, #1”)
Our various emotions are a specific mix of these 3 hormones. When they’re depleted or out of balance they cause physical & emotional disturbances, including anger, depression, anxiety, obsessions….
NEXT: Anger & the Brain (Part 5)