brain and emotions

The brain’s role in your choices and emotions

Brain work or gut feel? Kaja Nordengen, neuroscience researcher and author of Your Superstar Brain, explains that choice and emotions happen in the brain.

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The brain controls choice and emotions

Next time someone asks you to follow your gut instinct, you can laugh out loud! You wouldn’t feel anything in your gut at all, if it wasn’t for your brain. And if you feel something in your stomach, it’s only because you’ve eaten too much, too little or something bad. Expressions like ”I love you from the bottom of my heart” are just as meaningless. You might just as well say “I love you with the lower part of my right bicep”. The stomach cannot guide you to make the right choices in life, and we don’t love people with a muscle. Both choice and emotions happen in the brain. 

How does the brain work with choice?

Sometimes you face a choice where there are just as many pros as cons and where each point has the same weight. After weighing pros against cons without being able to make a choice, it may be wise to follow your intuition. Intuition is, however, by no means a gut feeling; it is an interconnection of countless emotions you have experienced over the years, a process that has developed through evolution over many millions of years. So, intuition is not in the gut but the brain. 

Some of your experiences are stored as specific memories. These may be your first kiss or the loss of a loved one. But what about the many times you went to work, talked to the family over breakfast, spilt coffee at work or made small talk with a stranger about the weather? We don’t remember all of these episodes as separate memories. Most of what we experience during a day is instead stored in a general memory database and becomes “experiences”. Intuition is not wild guesswork but is based on all these general experiences. 

Can you say that because you have stomach pain, you should have become a vet or a farmer? Or that you should accept infidelity? Of course not! You can feel sick in your stomach from stress, but this is controlled by the brain. Stress signals and hormones from the brain can affect your entire body, including your stomach and intestines. So, to say stress is in your stomach is like saying embarrassment is in your cheeks because you’re blushing.