Nowadays researchers try to look deep in the brain structure to indicate how, where and what triggers emotional response. They found two main brain structures responsible for emotions, different types of emotions and the brain pathways through which emotional response is delivered. Leaders in organizations use those findings so they can understand their emotions better and latter their employees in order to manage them effectively.
2.1 Biology of Emotion
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary emotion is’ conscious and subjective mental reaction toward a particular event and is usually accompanied by changes in the physiologic and behavioral aspects of a person’ (Emotion, n.d.).
One of the brain structures linked with emotion is the limbic system and the amygdala as main component (Cherry, 2013). According to Sincero (2012), the areas which are related to recognition of emotion are the brain precisely the autonomic nervous and the limbic system. The nervous system is more knows as the body’s control element, but it also the center of experiencing emotion.
2.1.1 Limbic system and ANS
Limbic system structures are involved in many of an individual’s motivations and emotions, precisely those that are related to survival. The system plays a crucial role in controlling emotional responses, such as anger, fear, and others (Bailey 2013). It is the region of the brain where emotion is recognized and regulated. The amygdala is the part of the limbic system that controls emotions and determines how a person will recognize emotion-triggering events and what will be the response them (Sincero 2012). Fralich (2013) defines the amygdala as the emotional center of the brain. The amygdala as part of the limbic system is responsible for the process the internal emotional state of emotions such as fear, sadness and anger and the external expression of them.
The Autonomic Nervous System or ANS is responsible for regulating instinctive or spontaneous functions of the human’s body such as increase in heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure which are one of the most frequent used responses connected with measuring emotions (Sincero 2012).
2.1.2 Brain Pathways
After the emotion, an evoking event occurs the information trigger is being conveyed to the thalamus which is the relay center of the brain. From there, the information can be transferred to the amygdala or the brain cortex. It is also known as the fast and slow pathway.
The pathway through the brain cortex slowly processes the information from the thalamus. It is processed in the prefrontal lobes, which is part of the cortex responsible for regulating emotion and emotionally adjusted communications. When the information reaches this region it gives the opportunity for adaptive response and evaluation after considering various options (Fralich 2013).
If the information doesn’t reach the brain cortex it directly goes to the amygdala which is responsible for a person’s express response to an emotion-triggering event, without considering the respond (Sincero 2012). The amygdala triggers the body’s ‘alarm system’ – when an emotion- evoking event occur the information doesn’t pass through the prefrontal lobes, activates the body’s hormonal response and prepares the person to deal with danger. As a result, the unconscious response lacks cognition and evaluation (Fralich 2013).
2.2 Emotion types
Damasio (1994) is one of the first to distinguish between primary and secondary emotions. He argues that there are certain events to which a person responds emotionally first and other that activate corresponding cognitive response.
Robert Plutchik (1980) states, that there are eight basic emotions, which include surprise, disgust, anger, sadness, anticipation, trust, joy fear. However, most recent finding by Jack, Garrod & Schyns (2014) reduces them to four basic emotions -happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted. LeDoux (1996) states, that the primary emotions are simply behaviors crucial to the survival. The amygdala allows a sudden, thoughtless reaction in the face of a threat. LeDoux (1996) says, ‘When it comes to detecting and responding to danger, the brain just hasn’t changed much’ (p131).
The other types of emotions are those usually causes by beliefs about experiencing a certain emotion. Namely secondary or complex emotions are triggered by thought connected to another emotion (Tull 2014). Mennin, Heimberg, Fresco & Turk (2005) describe the creation of secondary emotional responses, as a result, from lack of acceptance of the initial emotion due to a negative belief about it. Damasio (1994) further explains that secondary emotions change in the course of development and may vary in dependence of the culture and the individual. The problem involved in secondary emotions is that they restricting the information from our primary emotional responses. They often lead to avoidance of our emotions for numerous reasons such as emotional blocks from childhood, family, school, society work or situation in which it is not acceptable or safe to express the primary emotion (Miller 2009).
The two different types of emotion are interconnected with the brain pathways responsible for them: a fast pathway and a slow pathway. Primary emotions such as fear are determined by the fast pathway through the amygdala. Secondary emotions, on the other hand, are more determined by the slow pathway through the prefrontal lobes in the cortex. When the information is transferred from the thalamus to the prefrontal lobes for cognitive analysis it is accompanied by a more complex cognitive appraisal, producing more sophisticated emotions which do not pass quickly (LeDoux, 2000).