A great deal is already known about the location of certain mental functions in different areas of the brain. There remain many gaps in this knowledge, however, especially concerning the nature of the emotions and consciousness, and the links between brain activity and psychiatric illness. The workings of the body, mental functions, and the expression of emotions are believed to be closely linked by a part of the brain known as the limbic system.
The limbic system lies in the midbrain area. The word "limbic" means "border" or "boundary," and the limbic system forms the border between the higher, more complex, mental processes and emotional facilities of the cerebral cortex—the folded gray matter in the outer brain—and less complex centers of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, which control automatic body functions. Unlike less complex parts of the brain, where information received (see page 178) undergoes only rudimentary filtering, in higher areas of the brain, information from the peripheral nervous system is subjected to elaborate perception processes involving memory, decision-making, and other thought processes.
The limbic system plays a role in the expression of instinctive responses relating to survival, emotions, and the effects of mood on behavior, and the activities of what are known as neurotransmitters—a sort of chemical messenger. Some of these are mood enhancers, and a deficiency may contribute to depression.
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