What Part of the Brain Controls Emotions: The Science Behind It

It’s safe to say that the brain is one of the most complex organs in our body. Apart from processing thoughts and actions, the brain can feel a range of emotions—from happiness to sadness, from fear to anger, and from love to hate.

Let’s dig deeper into this article to understand what part of the brain controls our emotions and the functions of each region of the brain. What triggers a specific emotion? How do these brain regions work together?

Learn in This Article

  • Why Do People Have Emotions
  • What’s the Limbic System
    • Hypothalamus
    • Hippocampus
    • Thalamus
    • Amygdala
    • Prefrontal Cortex
  • What Part of the Brain Controls Emotion
    • Fear
    • Anger
    • Sadness
    • Happiness
    • Love and Sexual Arousal

Why Do People Have Emotions

Emotions are an essential part of what makes people human. Without them, nobody would be able to survive or thrive. But why do we have emotions in the first place?

Most obviously, the emotional side of the brain helps individuals regulate their behavior. When afraid, for example, humans are more likely to take steps to protect themselves from harm. Similarly, they take risks and explore their surroundings when happy or excited.

That said, not only does logical thinking help make sound decisions, but emotions and feelings also play an important role.

Since humans are social creatures, feelings are responsible for building and maintaining relationships with others. In fact, communicating and processing emotions can help build strong bonds between people and resolve conflicts. In addition, emotions also contribute to mate selection and reproduction. For instance, research has shown that people are more attracted to those who can express their feelings.

What’s the Limbic System

As mentioned earlier, the brain controls emotions. More precisely, the limbic system is a set of structures located deep inside the brain that are important for emotions, memory, behavior, and motivation.

When discussing the most common brain parts that control the emotional side, terms like the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus come right to mind. Let’s dig deeper into the function of each part.


The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain located just below the thalamus. While the lateral components regulate pleasure and anger, the middle part is often related to aversion, dissatisfaction, and uncontrollable laughing. So, it’s safe to say that the hypothalamus is primarily responsible for mood and energy levels.

The hypothalamus also controls autonomic nervous system emotions, including stress and pressure. When faced with a stressful situation, the hypothalamus kicks into gear and helps prepare the body for fight or flight.

A dysfunction in the hypothalamus can cause delayed puberty, nutritional imbalances (weight gain or loss), or even a lack of hormones for sexual development.


The hippocampus is a curved structure located in the temporal lobe of the brain. Its main function is associated with memory and learning. In fact, the hippocampus helps store new memories and recall old ones. Damage to the hippocampus can lead to memory loss and impaired learning.


The egg-shaped thalamus is placed in the center of the brain. It acts as a relay station for incoming information from the senses. The thalamus then sends this information to the appropriate area of the brain for processing. The thalamus also regulates an individual’s state of consciousness and sleep-wake cycle.


The almond-shaped structure known as the amygdala can be found in the temporal lobe of the brain. Processing emotions, such as fear, anxiety, and anger, is a job for this brain component. Not to mention the amygdala is also involved in memory and decision-making. For this reason, a damaged amygdala can cause problems with emotional regulation and decision-making.

Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain just behind the forehead. It involves higher-level cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making, and flexibility. The prefrontal cortex also controls impulses and emotional regulation.

What Part of the Brain Controls Emotion

As mentioned earlier, emotions such as fear, happiness, sadness, anger, and love are controlled by the limbic system, a group of interconnected structures in the middle of the brain. But where does each emotion come from? Let’s take a closer look.


The amygdala is responsible for the feeling of fear. When faced with a threatening situation, the amygdala sends out signals that activate the fight-or-flight response. This response is a survival mechanism that prepares a person to either fight or flee from danger.


Apart from feelings of fear, the amygdala also controls anger. The immediate response from the amygdala occurs when the individual perceives feelings of injustice or when they feel threatened and attacked.


Feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety affect the left insula, right occipital lobe, left thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus. As the hippocampus is associated with memory, sadness can increase the awareness of negative memories.


Similarly to sadness, happiness activates different brain components—the right frontal cortex, the left amygdala, and the left insula.

Love and Sexual Arousal

The hypothalamus is responsible for the feeling of love and sexual arousal. In this case, the hypothalamus sends out signals that activate the reward system in the brain. This system releases chemicals that make you feel good, which can lead to feelings of love.

In the case of arousal, physical changes in heart rate and increased blood flow occur.

What Part of the Brain Controls Emotions: Key Takeaways

  • The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls emotions. It’s located in the middle of the brain, just below the cerebral cortex.
  • The limbic system consists of several structures, including the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus.
  • The amygdala is responsible for the feeling of fear and anger. When faced with a threatening situation, the amygdala sends out signals that activate a fight-or-flight response.
  • Sadness and happiness affect multiple parts of the brain, including the amygdala, thalamus, and hippocampus.