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The Emotional Mind and the Rational Mind

All humans have two minds, so to speak: The emotional mind and the rational mind. These two minds are often called “the heart and the head.” Your emotional mind and your rational mind interact together to form your emotional control center.

Usually, the emotional mind and the rational mind operate in harmony and balance. However, there are times when the emotional mind will overtake the rational mind. Emotionally aware individuals will notice when this happens in themselves and in others, and will react accordingly.

The amygdala and the neocortex

To better understand the functions of the emotional control center, you need to be aware of how the emotional mind and the rational mind function. The emotional mind is located in the amygdala and feeds into the rational mind, guiding its operations.

The rational mind, located in the neocortex, refines and sometimes overrules the input of the emotional mind. While the amygdala and neocortex usually work in tandem, the amygdala overtakes the rational mind when emotions are running high. In highly emotional moments, the amygdala plays a crucial role in how a person reacts.

Scanning, alerting, and facilitating

When you encounter a potentially threatening situation, your amygdala begins to process sensory signals. This is known as scanning. If the situation is determined to be threatening, your amygdala will quickly alert your body to prepare for action, facilitating the body’s “fight or flight” response by releasing the necessary hormones that allow for quick movement and thinking.

Overtaking rationale

In addition to scanning, alerting, and facilitating responses, your amygdala can in some cases overtake and control most of the brain, including your neocortex (or rational mind). When this happens, you react to the situation in an emotional – and irrational – manner.

Individuals who have reached this point can be difficult to deal with, can break down emotionally, can achieve great acts of heroism, or in extreme cases, can become dangerous to themselves or to others.

Your two minds – the heart and the head – are always present in every situation you encounter. How you react to each situation depends on the degree of emotion involved. By being aware of the emotional levels in yourself and in others, you will have a good idea of how you and others will react to certain situations.