Make your own free website on
SpiritLife     |     home
About Me   |   My Resume   |   Favorite Links   |   Contact Me   |   Ecopsychology   |   Mental Illness/Bio-Medical Model   |   Oppressive Family Law Courts   |   DomesticViolence/Homelessness   |   Truth and Power   |   Proposed Case Study--Domestic Violence   |   Human Condition-Quality of Life   |   Analysis of "Babe" film   |   Emotion, Reason & Body-Mind Connection
Emotion, Reason & Body-Mind Connection
Emotion, Reasoning and the Body-Mind Connection

     This paper looks at how our emotions and bodies are more interrelated with our brains than what Western medicine practices, with our bodies as having an important impact upon our emotions and vice-versa.  The neurobiolocial activity of emotion and feeling will be described, the way our body carries emotion as well as a discussion about the importance that emotional functioning has upon our reasoning ability and our overall health.  

Emotion and Reasoning

     In reviewing the book, Descartes’ Error (1994) the significance of emotion to our reasoning abilities became more interesting to me, because society does not usually value emotions as being important as much as logic.  Nor does Western science look upon emotion as having any positive affect upon making rational decisions.  Damasio goes into great detail in describing how a certain set of regions (the anterior cingulate cortex) of the brain affects both reasoning and emotion, as studied in patients with head injuries.  He describes patients’ condition with injury to this area as “suspended animation, mental and external--the extreme variety of an impairment of reasoning and emotional expression” (Damasio, 1994, p. 71) causing “impairment in movement, emotion, and attentiveness, but also causes a virtual suspension of the animation of action and of thought process such that reason is not longer viable” (Damasio, 1994, p.72).  Patients with this injury have a blank expression and lack mental animation.  This might suggest that a lack of emotional expression implies a reduced ability in reasoning.
     From Damasio’s case study of a female stroke patient who became motionless and speechless, it seems as though this patient had no consious thinking or feeling, but was a breathing body with no thoughts in particular nor any upset about not having conscious thoughts.  She seemed to be disconnected from herself, unaware that there was anything wrong with herself.  This is tremendously disconcerting to me, as this means that a huge part of human experience can be wiped out with this sort of brain damage.  The areas of her brain that had been damaged during her stroke were the dorsal and medial regions of the frontal lobe in both hemispheres.
     Paul MacLean (1996) studied human emotion and irrational behavior and also believed that the limbic cingulate cortex in particular was responsible for mammalian family life, including maternal caretaking and bonding (Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 1996, p. 441).  This area involves feelings of love and trust, caretaking, recognizing the family, protective feelings, and other realms of feeling and emotion.  Healthy mammals that have these feelings and emotions in their family life would rationally play an appropriate part as a member of these families, such as mothering, feeding their offspring, and nurturing behaviors to help their offspring grow.  These experiences involve emotions and reasoning.  MacLean (1996) also theororized that feeling and knowing may be differentiated because of the more simple structure of the older limbic cortex not being able to verbally communicate with the most highly evolved neocortex.  This is an interesting idea that causes me to wonder how MacLean’s idea relates to intuition, and what parts of the brain are most involved with intuition.  I would guess that intuition is also related to emotion and reasoning because we naturally think about what we intuit, trying to make sense of it; we question a direction to take in finding answers which involves reasoning, and we attempt to sense if the intuition “feels right”, involving feeling and emotion.
     The James-Lange (1984) theory of emotion seems to say that our emotions come from reactions in our bodies, such as a racing heartbeat when we’re afraid.  James asked “Do you run because you’re scared, or are you scared because you run?” and his own answer was that you’re scared because you run.  (Krippner and Combs, 1997, p. 63). James seems to leave out the role that the brain plays in our consciousness of emotion as well as in the physical reactions that take place in the somatic system.  It seems as if he were saying that emotions do not run through our brains at all, but skip our brains completely.  He seems to think that our bodies just feel the emotion and then our body takes action, such as running when we’re scared.  This goes against what we know now in that emotions and feelings are connected to the workings of the brain.
     If we experience emotions in our bodies, then this explains in a more concrete way why people commonly suffer from heart disease if they often feel hostility and anger, according to recent literature, such as by Webb (2001).  Anger produces cortisol and adrenaline which increases cholestrol and causes plaque to build up in our arteries.  The chemicals released in our bodies when we often feel these emotions take a negative toll on us physically.  From this I would postulate that what we feel has a large effect on our physical health, as well as our mental health, since our bodies and minds are so connected.  Feelings of hositility release cortisol, so that when overloaded, our bodies’ chemistry changes negatively to reflect the biochemical activity that our hostility created. Hostility is a kind of negative stress.
     Stress is also a feeling state that involves our emotions.  According to Panksepp (1998), “Stress is anything that activates the pituitary-adrenal system (the ACTH-cortisol axis).  Everything that is typically considered to be a strssor is humans generates this brain response” (Panksepp, 1998, p. 118).  Simply put, when neuroemotional influences reach a certain part of the hypothalamus, neurons travel through axons toward the pituitary that triggers the release of ACTH.  ACTH is released into the bloodstream, then travels to the adrenal cortexl, which triggers the release of cortisol.  Cortisol regulates the intensity of the stress response to “promote energy utilization in the body...” (Panksepp, 1998, p. 118) under stressful situations.  Panksepp (1998) also confirms that sustained stress can kill certain brain cells, because “If cortisol secretion is sustained at excessive levels, the metabolic resources of hippocampal neurons become depleted and die prematurely” (Panksepp, 1998, p. 118).

Body and brain as mind
     Damasio (1995) refers to the so-called Cartesian split of the body and mind.  The Cartesian mind is the idea from the mid-twentieth century, that the brain is completely seperate from the body and that the mind functions seperately from the body.  Damasio explains that the Cartesian idea explains why diseases are seen as either diseases of the mind or diseases of the body, and that the mind and body is not considered together when treating disease in Western medicine.  Damasio takes a holistic approach in describing the mind:
          ...that the comprehensive understanding of the human mind
          requires an organismic perspective; that not only must the mind
          move from a nonphysical cogitum to the realm of biological tissue,
          but it must also be related to a whole organism possessed of
          intergrated body proper and brain and fully interactive with a
          physical and social environment (Damasio, 1995, p.252).
     Our reasoning ability helps us to take care of our health.  When we know that certain activities are bad for our health, we use our reasoning to steer away from those activities.  The idea of ill-health may make us uncomfortable enough to illicit an emotional reaction to the thought of disease.  According to Damasio, our emotions are part of our reasoning mechanism.  Damasio (1995) explains in detail how emotions play a part in normal, human life.  He describes our early emotions as “primary emotions” and adult emotions as “secondary emotions”.  We have emotional responses and then we feel the emotion.  He explains that the prefrontal and somatosensory cortices along with the limbic system are involved in the process of secondary emotions.  Our body proper also changes in response to feeling our emotions, such as in the heart, lungs, skeletal muscles, and endocrine glands.
     We  “remember” our feelings that have arisin from our emotional reactions to certain situations so that we do not have to “relearn” feelings.  Damasio calls this personalized remembering “dispositional representations” (Damasio, 1995, p. 136) that is acted upon by the prefrontal cortex.  Simply put, the nonconscious response of the prefrontal dispositional representations signals the amygdala and the anterior cingulate, which then activates the autonomic nervous sytem; the motor system; the endocrine and peptide systems; and nonspecific neurotransmitter nuclei in the brain stem and basal forebrain.  All this activity is coordinated within the healthy person, causing an “emotional body state”, which is “signaled back to the limbic and somatosensory sytems”  (Damasio, 1995, p. 138).
     The preceeding paragraph describes how the body proper is involved in emotions and feelings, rather than just the brain.  Damasio makes the distinction that the brain and “mind” are not the same, but that the mind includes the body and the brain.  Damasio writes:
In conclusion, emotion is the combination of a mental evaluative process, simple or complex, with dispositional responses to that process, mostly toward the body proper, resulting in an emotional body state, but also toward the brain itself (neurotransmitter nuclei in brain stem), resulting in additional mental changes.  Note that, for the mement, I leave out of emotion that perception of all the changes that constitute the emotional response.  As you will soon discover, I reserve the term feeling for the experience of those changes (Damasio, 1995, p. 139).
     If the body is so involved in the workings of the brain and emotions, it stands to reason that the treatment of diseases would also involve the whole person; body and brain as interconnected.
     Damasio goes on to describe the difference between feelings and emotions:
What is a feeling?  Why do I not use the terms ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’ interchangeably?  One reason is that although some feelings relate to emotions, there are many that do not: all emotions generate feelings if you are awake and alert, but not all feelings originate in emotions.  I call background feelings those that do not originate in emotions and I discuss them later in the chapter (Damasio, 1995, p. 143).
     Damasio (1995) describes the intricate neurobiological workings of emotional responses that combine with the continuous monitoring of what our body is doing while thoughts about specific contents cross our minds in the somatosensory cortices.  Damasio explains in great scientific detail how the body and brain work together as one organism.  He does not agree with the narrow view of mainstream cognitive science that leaves emotions and feelings out of the cognitive process.   
First, it is apparent that emotion is played out under the control of both subcortical and neocortical structures.  Second, and perhaps more important, feelings are just as cognitive as any other perceptual image, and just as dependent on cerebral-cortex processing as any other image... Feelings let us mind the body, attentively, as during an emotional state, or faintly, as during a background state.  They let us mind the body ‘live,’ when they give us perceptual images of the body, or ‘by rebroadcast,’ when they give us recalled images of the body state appropriate to certain circumstances, in ‘as if’ feelings (Damasio, 1995, p. 159).
Emotions impact health
     The affect of pleasant emotions has been thought by many in mainstream culture to be associated with good health.  “Positive emotional states may promote healthy perceptions, beliefs, and physical well-being itself” (Salovey, P.; Rothman, A.J.; Detweiler, J.B.; Steward, W.T., 2000).  Salovey et. al. studied multiple pathways that may work toward positive affect, such as the immune system; emotional experiences and their informational value; how positive feeling states affect psychological resources; mood and it’s motivation toward health-relevant behaviors; and social support.  Salovey et al. explain that many health benefits are known or suspected to be activated with positive emotional states, and that there are multiple links between good health and positive emotions.
     Our moods and feelings effect our bodies as researched by Salovey et al. (2000), who report that the antibody secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA), positively enhances the immune system during positive moods, and compromises the immune system in response to negative moods.  Salovey et al. go on to enumerate many benefits of positive outlook and good mood:  increased natural killer cell activity, enhanced immunite system activity, better health outcomes, improved health functioning including fewer self-reported health problems, lower use of health services, better physical functioning of those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, less likelihood of getting sick, less physical symptomology, perceived reduced vulnerability to diseases, increased belief in the ability to carry out health-promoting behaviors, greater confidence in health-promoting behaviors, the perception of being in a safe environment, higher motivation to sustain a positive emotional state, increased psychic resources to process threatening information more completely, improved psychological resilience, increased coping ability, increased tolerance of physical discomfort, better focus and planning skills regarding future outcomes of surgery, lower mortality with the benefits of social support, greater resistance to communicable diseases, faster recovery from heart disease and heart surgery and increased feelings of security when social relationships are available to support the person.  In sum, Salovey et al. write that:  
In general, negative emotional states are thought to be associated with unhealthy patterns of physiological functioning, whereas positive emotional states are thought to be associated with helathier patterns of responding in both cardiovascular activity and the immune system, although the data concerning negative states are more plentiful (Salovey et al., 2000, p. 111).

Emotions and Neuropeptides     

     Pert (1990) suggests that emotional information travels throughout the body, rather than being located in the brain only.  She refers to our physical selves as being a “body-mind”.  She explains in bio-chemical terms how emotions are manifested throughout the body.  Her work involves laboratory findings in her studies of opiate receptor sites.  After studying neuropeptides, she explains that the old idea of nerve cells passing information across synapses to nearby nerve cells has to do with activities such as muscle contraction rather than transmitting emotions, feelings and thoughts.  
     To begin with, Pert explains chemical substances in the body called neuropeptides.  Neuropeptides are peptides that influence neural activity.  Peptides are strings of amino acids, and sixteen amino acids in different sequences make up everything in the human body.  Different sequences produce different chemicals, some of which are neuropeptides.  
     During her studies of opiates -- morphine, codeine, herion and opium -- she found that opiates attach to the same receptors.  She and her colleagues discovered that the receptors were scattered throughout not only the brain but also the body.  She and her colleagues thought more about this.  They reasoned:
If the brain and the other parts of the body have a receptor for something taken into the body -- called an exogenous ligand -- it makes sense to suppose that something produced inside the body -- an endogenous ligand -- also fits the receptor.  Otherwise, why would the receptor be there? (Pert, 1990, p. 149).
     They then were able to identify a form of opiate found in the brain called beta endorphin.  Beta endorphin is a neuropeptide that are peptide structures produced bvy nerve cells in the brain.  Pert (1990) explains that “Beta endorphine is created in nerve cells; it chemically consists of peptides, so it is a neuropeptide”.   Beta endorphine is a specific string of amino acids that is found in large quantities in the pituitary gland in the brain, as well as in the gonads.  Both brain and body contain beta endorphine, also  commonly thought to help humans “feel good”.   These endogenous ligands for the opiate receptors turned out to be peptides, and Pert (1990) explains that peptides come from the DNA.  She writes; “There is no enzyme in between; they grow directly off the DNA, which stores the information to make our brains and bodies”.   
     Pert (1990) then describes a nerve cell as having DNA in the center:
and a direct printout of the DNA leads to the production of a neuropeptide, which then traverses down the axons of the nerve cell to be stored in little balls at the end waiting for the right electro-physical events that will release it.  The DNA also has the information that codes for the receptors, which are made out of the same peptide material but are much bigger.  Beta endorphin has 30 amino acids, but the opiate receptor for it turns out to have about 20,000 amino acids.

         What has to be added to this picture is the fact that 50 to 60 neuropeptides have been identified, each of them s specific as the beta endorphin neuropeptide.  In other words, the DNA produces all these neuropeptides, which all travers down axons and all wait for the right electro-physical events.  We have here an enormously complex system which is kept straight by the high specificity of the neuropeptides and their receptors (p. 149).
     It has been thought that bio-chemicals are released to nearby receptor sites in the brain by crossing synapses to carry information.  Contrary to this belief, Pert (1990) and her colleagues have learned that it is the specificity of receptor sites that are found all throughout the body, not just in the brain, that are active in receiving communication sent from the nervous system.  She writes:  
When a nerve cell squirts out opiate peptides, the peptides can act “miles” away at other nerve cells.  The same is true of all neuropeptides.  At any given moment, many neuropeptides may be floating along within the body, and what enables them to attach to the correct receptor molecules is, to repeat, the specificity of the receptors.  Thus, the receptors serve as the mechanism that sorts out the information exchange in the body (p. 150).
     Pert (1990) suggests that the receptors for the neuropeptides are in fact the keys to the biochemistry of emotion.  She sites work done by her colleagues (Pert, Ruff, Weber, & Herkenham, 1985; also Pert, 1985; Schmitt, 1984) as the basis of her suggestion.  
On a mental level, our emotions and feelings have been associated with the limbic system, which has been understood as the reward pleasure center in the brain.  The limbic system has been thought to be comrised of neuroanatomical parts of the brain which includes the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the amygdala.  Pert (1990) writes that the limbic system is not just in the forebrain as has been thought, but in places in the body that have many different neuropeptide receptors.  These places, called nodal points, show a lot of chemical action and are anatomically located in places that receive a lot of emotional modulation.
     Pert (1990) gives the example of angiotensin receptors in the kidneys identical to those in the brain.  Angiotensin is a chemical substance that is a hormone and also a peptide and is now shown to be a neuropeptide.  Her work involves mapping for certain receptors using radioactive molecules whose density, as they collect in say, opiate receptors, can be transformed into a quanititative color scale.  Pert (1990) speculates that neuropeptides provide the physiological basis for the emotions.  She makes the point that the body and brain may be effected by a mood state.  Angiotensin mediates thirst, that chemically speaking, translates as an altered state of consciousness, a state that makes humans want to drink water.  She mentions here that neuropeptides are involved in consciousness and in alterations in states of consciousness.  Her example with angiotensin in kidneys in some way conserves water.  She writes:
          The release of the neuropeptide angiotensin leads both to the                      behavior of drinking and to the internal conservation of water.
          Here is an example of how a neuropeptide -- which perhaps
          corresponds to a mood state -- can integrate what happens in
          the body with what happens in the brain. (Pert, 1990, 152).
     Pert (1990) holds the perspective that “the power of the mind over the body” is not describing what she has learned.  She cites a study that shows that the same receptors are in the brain and in the immune system.  The gut holds a neuropeptide CCK that was discovered during tests of how the gut muscles in organ baths contract.  The gut contained functional receptors that helped researchers to understand that CCK was highly involved with food satiety.  If you were given doses of CCK, you would not want to eat any more.  She explains that the brain and the spleen contain receptors for CCK.  She points to this as another example of how the brain, gut and immune system can all be affected by the neuropeptide CCK and the whole system of body-mind as containing emotional information.  Pert (1990) writes that:
          The body in these experiments is the outward           manifestation of the mind.  I would go further.  When           we document the key role that the emotions,           expressed through neuropeptide molecules, play in           affecting the body, it will become clear how                emotions can be a key to the understanding of           disease (Pert, 1990, p. 154).
      Pert (1990) sees the “body-mind” as a biodirectional network of communication from areas of the “body-mind” that are located far from each other within the whole body.  She asserts that perhaps “mind” is the information flowing among all of these body parts.
     Pert (1990) writes another startling idea from her findings in her lab.  Many scientists have been studying opiate receptors and opiate peptides and have found a large heterogeneity in the receptors which have been given different Greek names.  But Pert (1990) finds that evidence that there is only one type of molecule in the opiate receptors that is one long polypeptide chain whose formula you can write.  This molecule can change its conformation quite rapidly within its membrane into many different shapes called interconversion.  These receptors have a wave-like and a particulate character in which information can be stored.
     The receptors, which are proteins, twist because of electrical and physical forces that cause it to assume a shape.  Pert (1990) writes that it is possible, by putting the receptors in detergent, to change the structure to that of a straight line, allowing a scientist to determine their molecular weight and characterisitcs by running them in an electrical field.  She feels that because of this study, that she and her associates have shown that the molecular substance of all opiate receptors is the same.  She points out that the opiate receptor in human and animal brains is the same molecular substance as the simplest of animals, the tetrahymena’s.  She writes that this finding gets to the “simplicity and the unity of life” and that “The identical molecular components for information flow are conserved throughout evolution”.  This may be in concurrence with MacLean’s (1996) theory mentioned earlier that feeling and knowing may be differentiated because of the more simple structure of the older limbic cortex not being able to verbally communicate with the most highly evolved neocortex.  


     What is so amazing about Pert’s (1990) studies and suggestions is that this may explain why so many people talk about feeling emotions in their gut and why they have a “gut feeling”.   This would mean that a person’s emotions, body, brain and intuition leading to mood states, thinking and decision making all work together and cannot do so without each other.  In other words, to make rational decisions, we draw upon our bodies and emotions as well our brains in making decisions that utilize our emotions and feelings about something.  We use our “gut feelings” to help us decide things.  This may be part of our survival mechanism.  In order to make better decisions, we must not only develop our intellectual knowledge, but become more attuned to our emotions which are found in our “body-mind”, to  listen to our emotions and body reactions and be able to visualize our goals to meet our desires.  This is the body and mind working together to enable us to plan our lives and create better lives for ourselves.  
     With more research, we may be able to prove conclusively that our thinking is affected by our emotions and mood that results from our perceptions.  What me may find may have a strong influence in terms of psychotherapeutic practice.  When we feel down in mood or depressed, for example, our perception of our lives and our outlook upon things are not as hopeful that directly relates to our motivation, for example.  If we feel that something is not possible because we have a depressed and hopeless outlook, for example, we may not try to attain a goal that may indeed be possible if we tried to achieve it.  Our mood would stop us from trying and therefore we lack motivation.  We are “stuck” emotionally and also in our ability to achieve our goals.   But on the other hand, if we had a brighter outlook upon the same situation, we may feel motivated to achieve our goals.  In this way, our thinking and emotions may be found to affect our motivation, which may at some point in the future, be identified as certain forms of peptides as causing lack of motivation and depression, for example.
     This may in a way support Damasio’s (1994) assertion that people can actually die from their emotions.  Further study may also support the idea of how we have      
illnesses in our body parts that we think of as corresponding to certain emotions, ie: “brokenheartedness” and the need for heart surgery, or having neck pain when we find certain situations to be “a pain in the neck”.  We may be already be well-informed on a genetic level of corresponding physical ailments and emotional states but have not have the hard science to back up what we already seem to know.  It would be interesting to also look at how psychiatric illness could be factored in to this discussion of body-mind affecting our emotions and rationality.
     Our Western idea that the mind is located in the brain may be shifted to the idea that the mind is found in various parts of the body.  This would bring about a fascinating discussion of consciousness as not only being associated with the brain, but also of consiousness being found in the body.  Our whole way of treating mental illness, for example, would have to include treating the consciousness of our bodies in order to get well.


     Bear, M. F., Connors, B. W., & Paradiso, M. A. (1996).  Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain.  Baltimore, MD:  Williams & Wilkins.
     Damasio, A. R. (1995).  Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.  New York, NY:  Avon Books, Inc.
     Krippner, S. & Combs, A. (1997).  Learning Guide for Contemporary Neuroscience: Psychology & The Brain.  San Francisco, CA:  Saybrook University.
     Panksepp, J.  (1998).  Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press.
     Pert, C. (1990).  The wisdom of the receptors:  Neuropeptides, the emotions, and body-mind.  In R. Orenstein & C. Swencionis (Eds.), The healing brain:  A scientific reader (pp. 147-156). New York:  Guilford Press.
     Salovey, P., Rothman, A. J., Detweiler, J. B., & Steward, W. T.  (2000).  Emotional States and Physical Health.  American Psychologist, 55 (1), 110-121.
     Webb, J. (2001).  Emotional Rescue. Better Nutrition, 63 (2), H6.