Visceral emotional response and gut feelings – is your gut actually guiding your behavior or are you executing full, emotional control over physiological inputs and consciously over-riding the system?
How many of our ‘conscious’ behaviors in fact stem from physical, gut reactions?
How often do we succumb to what ‘feels right’ compared to logically and systematically weighing the pros & cons?
Behavioral Responses and the Gut
From birth, we are hardwired to respond to signals from our gut: changes within the gut trigger behavioral responses – for example, hunger initiating crying or suckling. These systems are imperative for survival.
However, do these physiological triggers and subsequent behavioral responses begin engraving neurological patterns that will continue to express themselves throughout the lifespan?
The Gut-Brain Connection
As adults, we have all experienced something physiologically in our guts – nausea, pain, cramping, hunger, satiety – prompting a certain behavioral or emotional response.
To expand on that concept further, what about the feeling when you are looking for a new home – knowing instantaneously if it’s the one: the “I know it in my gut” feeling.
Those split-second decisions that trump piles of analytical data are often accompanied by our physiological sensations. This is the gut-brain connection. We have all experienced the phenomenon at one time or another. You are likely familiar with the associated feeling: sinking, stress, clenching – or expanding, vibrant, uplifting.
Insula and Gut Feeling – How Gut Affects Your Mood
Contemplating how emotions, memories and actions develop based on these gut inputs is fascinating.
When we encounter a person or place that triggers that 6th sense, there are actually anatomical structures and neurochemical responses which provide some explanation.
The gut-brain connection, involving the vagus nerve, is a powerful signaling superhighway, leaving very little untouched by its influence. Interestingly, inflammation within the gut can initiate activation in the hypothalamus and limbic system, creating social withdrawal via this pathway.
But also, the gut and brain interface at the insula, a specialized region of the brain which receives a conglomerate of visceral, sensory, olfactory and gustatory inputs. The insula has been shown to become activated in response to disgust, ‘intuitive decision making’ and social response – areas where the gut feelings and emotional thoughts collide.
So the next time somebody tells you they made a gut decision, you can affirm the neurobiological basis behind it!
Mayer, E. A. (2011, August). Gut feelings: The emerging biology of gut–brain communication. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v12/n8/full/nrn3071.html