Overview of the brain areas

A plastic model of the brain with different sections painted in different colours.

When we begin a new session of our therapy, Self-Rewiring, you’re asked to choose a subject from a list of personality traits. Yet we didn’t just randomly make-up a list. They come from brain research.

A compass.

Why brain areas?

We wanted to find out the best way to rewire common emotional problems. So, we looked at brain research to see which brain areas have physical differences in people with various problems, compared to those who don’t.

We then researched those brain areas to see what emotional subjects appear to live there.

So you now have a list of personality traits associated with specific brain areas. It’s like having a compass – it doesn’t reveal what you’ll discover on your journey, but it points you in the right direction.

All functions?

This page does not cover all the functions of these brain areas, as each has multiple functions. We’re only taking about the function(s) which we believe we might be able to rewire in a Self-Rewiring session.

This page will change

This subject is controversial; experts don’t agree on what the brain areas do. As new research is published, our understanding will change. Some of our beliefs will turn out to be wrong, while others will be clarified.

The 11 brain areas

A school-age boy looks dejected as he is bullied by two other boys.The Preoptic Area (POA)My social dominance or inferiority

A young girl looks happy as she holds a large lollypop.Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)My thinking and behaviour for a reward

Three men sitting in a pub drinking celebrate as their sports team scores a goal.Bed Nucleus of the
Stria Terminalis (BNST)
My self-identity and social place

A young man looks around as he hikes in the wilderness.Amygdala-Right (AMG-R)My relationship to the outer world

A young woman sits on the floor at the end of her bed, contemplating something.Amygdala-Left (AMG-L)My relationship with my inner world

A sunrise.Supra-chiasmatic Nucleus (SCN)My instincts and assumptions

A young man wipes sweat off his brow after jogging.Basal Ganglia (BSG)My motivation and self-control

A young woman holds the hand of another woman and looks at her with compassion.Insular Cortex (INS)My emotional awareness

A man selects the correct golf club from his set.Caudate Nucleus (CAU)The emotional goals I pursue

A battered woman looks up with fear as a man with a clenched fist approaches her.Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC)The pleasure or pain I expect

An elderly man in a wheelchair looks out a window while deep in thought.Hippocampus (HIP)Comprehending my experiences

Extras

A school-age boy looks dejected as he is bullied by two other boys.

The Preoptic Area (POA)

My social dominance or inferiority

In animals, this area is used to detect the smells left by other animals, such as to mark out territory. Animals who have won larger territories have more connections in this brain area, and it releases more of a hormone (called GnRH) which makes them socially and territorially dominant.

This area is also involved in smelling a female to know when she is receptive to mating, and then later is involved in the parental care of offspring – probably from smelling them. Finally, electrical stimulation of this area causes male rats to ejaculate more quickly during mating.

While humans do not use scents or territories in the same way animals, having our own place in the world, our own space and possessions, having sex, and raising offspring, are all important to us, and this brain area seems to play a role in these things.

Summary

How you are able, or not, to establish your own social place and dominion.

For example, can you stand up for yourself? Or are you dominated by others? Are you inferior? Are other people better than you? Do you normally feel intimidated, overlooked, or even used?

May be involved with

Shyness, Giving parental care, Interpersonal conflict, Sex and romance.

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A young girl looks happy as she holds a large lollypop.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)

My thinking and behaviour for a reward

Persons who have had this brain area damaged are less able to control their own behaviour, make rational decisions, and are more emotional, obsessive, or anxious. In tests where volunteers are given puzzles to solve, brain scans show that learning the right way to solve the puzzle is processed and remembered in this brain area. In other words, learning (rational thinking) what one should do (behave) to be rewarded.

Thus this area may be where to learn, in a logical way, what we should do to get a reward, and how we should behave. If we have trained ourselves to do or think something because it gets a reward, it may live here. Yet the time when it did give us something we wanted may have long passed – but the instinct we learned may still be here.

For example, in OCD doing something over and over again may seem illogical – but this part of the brain may have learned that it is logical for some twisted reason. It’s just that the rest of you can’t remember what it is. Likewise with an unwanted addiction, while it may be horribly damaging to your life, this brain area may still think of all the logical reasons (in a twisted way) why it’s still all good and gets you a reward.

In PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the “reward” may be to stay alive. From then on, this brain area will always act to keep you alive, even if it seems to do so in an irrational way or in inappropriate situations. The brain fears that without it you may die.

This may be where the brain is reluctant to give up an “unwanted” desire. It knows that it is getting a reward for having it; and without it? Then you will have nothing.

Summary

How a certain way of thinking or behaving gets you some kind of reward.

For example, do you dislike something, but somehow can’t live without it? Do you secretly get something in return for your “unwanted” thought, feeling, or desire? Why do you really hang on to it? If you let go of it, will you suffer?

May be involved with

Addiction (for anything), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Obesity.

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Three men sitting in a pub drinking celebrate as their sports team scores a goal.

Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis (BNST)

My self-identity and social place

This best evidence we have shows this area to deal with stress and threat monitoring and is “thought to promote behavioural inhibition in response to unfamiliar individuals”. In other words, safety around strangers.

However, it also is found to be a different size in transexuals, and different again in another way among paedophiles. So it seems it’s largest function is social – about who you are and how you fit in (or not) with others, and how comfortable you feel around others, who you believe yourself to be, such as gender and age maturity, and who you wish to become involved with intimately.

We combine all these functions to say it that appears to be concerned with your self-identity, such as what gender you are, how old you are, and whether you feel accepted and part of (or not) a social group, and whether you feel threatened by others socially.

Summary

Knowing who you are and know where you ‘fit in’ with others.

For example, do you feel isolated from your own gender, age group, your peers, or your culture? Do you feel out-of-place or “different”? Do you know who you are, and what you are? Do you fit inside your own body, life, and existence?

May be involved with

Social phobia, Social isolation, Social place, Sex and romance, Maturity, Sense of self-identity, Gender identity, Paedophilia.

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A young man looks around as he hikes in the wilderness.

Amygdala-Right (AMG-R)

My relationship to the outer world

Men have more connections to and from this brain area (the Amygdala-Right) than women. Women are the opposite, they have more connections from the other one (the Amygdala-Left).

It seems this right-hand version is involved in your relationship to the outside world, that is, social interaction with others and interaction with your environment. Therefore it is fitting that it was found to play a role in facial recognition (i.e. recognising others instead of recognising yourself) and personal space. This area is also involved in “aversive conditioning to errors”, in other words, learning from your mistakes in the outer world and remembering them internally. Electrically stimulating this area causes fear and sadness.

Finally, people with larger and/or better connected AMG-Rs tend to be more politically conservative, in the sense of being driven by principles (rather than feelings) and being more black-and-white in the difference between right and wrong.

Summary

Your ability (or lack thereof) to interact with everyone and everything else.

For example, how comfortable are you with the outside world? Does it threaten you? Do you want to isolate yourself? Have you learned that the outer world is painful or a threat? Can you cope with the outer world?

May be involved with

Anxiety, Social phobia, Shyness, Gender, Sex and romance, Political views.

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A young woman sits on the floor at the end of her bed, contemplating something.

Amygdala-Left (AMG-L)

My relationship with my inner world

This helps you to become better connected to your own internal world, your inner feelings, and being sensitive to how others make you feel inside. You can then understand and feel sorry for others more easily. It complements the AMG-R, which is roughly the opposite. Women generally have better connected AMG-L’s than men.

Interestingly, some research shows that depressed people have a greater number of connections in this brain area, implying they are more sensitive to how they feel inside and concentrate on it too much. Other research shows this to be involved in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder); perhaps this brain area concentrates the person on thinking about their own feelings over and over again, or connects these feelings to too many other brain areas.

Summary

How you view yourself and whether you are acceptable in your own eyes.

For example, are you good enough? Do you view yourself poorly? Do the opinions and view of others effect you? Are you sensitive to other people’s emotions, and “take them on board” too easily? How solid is your own inner sense of security?

May be involved with

PTSD, Anxiety, Shyness, Empathy, Being self-critical, Depression, Gender, Sex and romance.

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A sunrise.

Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN)

My instincts and assumptions

Strictly speaking the SCN is the body clock. Yes, the area that helps to regulate your daily rhythms, such as when you normally eat, when you wake up, and when you go to sleep.

In animals it has a role in mating. How so? It monitors how much light is coming into the eyes, and therefore, it can guess how long the days are; since longer days indicates that spring has arrived, it prompts the animal to prepare for mating season. Interestingly, animals with enlarged SCNs begin to exhibit some bisexual behaviour.

So this area involves instincts, such as the instinct to wake, to sleep, to eat, and to mate (and perhaps other things). Yet, is it only in-built instincts, or something more? It may be more.

We believe it also regulates learned instincts, because you can always train yourself to wake up earlier, or go to bed earlier, and your “body clock” will adjust to the new rhythm, will it not? You can also teach yourself to follow a certain pattern of eating times, and you can learn to enjoy certain foods. Regarding mating, we know that children who are sexually abused are statistically more likely to do the same when they grow up. So it seems that instincts are not just inborn – they can also be developed and trained.

So we say that this area of the brain is not just to do with any in-built instincts which we may have, but also learned instincts.

Summary

How you have learned to instinctively react and feel to thoughts and situations.

For example, do you instinctively feel or do something? Do you automatically assume you must act or feel in a certain way, to enjoy, or hate, something? Have you learned how to react in that manner because there’s no better way?

May be involved with

Anxiety, Phobia, Obesity, Sex and romance.

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A young man wipes sweat off his brow after jogging.

Basal ganglia (BSG)

My motivation and self-control

The BSG is primarily about your motor control, that is, in moving your body around, moving your eyes, or performing habits (e.g. instinctive movements like finger-testing). People who shake due to Parkinson’s disease have degeneration in part of the BSG. Those with Cerebral palsy had their BSGs damaged in the womb, which explains their movements.

The BSG is not just about movement though, it’s also about your motivation to move, do something, or to refrain from moving or doing something. For example, in one experiment, a rat with a damaged BSG would not move towards some food, even when he was hungry and with the food just a few centimetres away. He just could not motivate himself. When the food was placed in his mouth, however, then he would chew and swallow it.

Interestingly, the biggest thing the cells within the BSG do is inhibit or stop behaviour. We know this because the cells receive more GABA than normal. GABA is the chemical which switches activity off. These same cells will receive less Glutamate than normal, the chemical which switches activity on. So the BSG is not just about having motivation, but about stopping it too.

So we say this area is both about motivating yourself to do something, and controlling yourself to stop doing something. That may explain why addictive drugs are known to act on this area, as they emphasise the reward you feel for taking a drug. Therefore the reward (or not) you gain from acting in a certain way influences your self-motivation and self-control, both here in the BSG.

Summary

How you are motivated to do or feel something, or to allow something.

For example, is there some deep-seated reason (or reasons) to feel, think, or desire something? Is this the only option? What motives are there, deep down? Is self-control a poor option? Will you suffer pain if you assert self-control and make a different choice?

May be involved with

Addiction (for anything), Obesity, A lack of self-control

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A young woman holds the hand of another woman and looks at her with compassion.

Insular Cortex (INS)

My emotional awareness

How do you judge how much pain you are feeling? How are you aware of what emotion you are feeling? How do you feel empathy – once described by someone as “your pain, in my heart”? Much of this is because of the Insular Cortex (INS).

Persons who are better able to sense the internal activities of their own body, and those who have had bad experiences in life, have more grey matter in the INS. In other words, the INS is stronger in people with greater emotional self-awareness.

Yet it is more than this; the INS is also involved in telling you when you feel cold, hot, when your stomach is full, when your bladder needs emptying; it’s involved in balancing when you walk. Yes, your INS tells you everything you need to know about yourself.

Emotionally, the INS is involved with practically every emotion: love, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust, social exclusion, trust, and more. It’s all about your self awareness, both physical and emotional. This self-awareness is then heavily involved with how you interact with others because it allows you to see how they are feeling, so then you can know how to react. It also allows you to empathise and sympathise with others, as you can recognise the emotions of another person and feel it yourself.

Summary

How aware you are of your own emotions, and the emotions of others.

For example, can you tell what you are feeling? Or would you rather be blind to it? Is it overwhelming? Can you tell what others are feeling, and are you able empathise with them? Or are other peoples feelings unwanted?

May be involved with

Addiction (any), Anxiety, Anorexia, Lack of empathy, Being overwhelmed by others emotions, Being unable to recognise emotions.

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A man selects the correct golf club from his set.

Caudate Nucleus (CAU)

The emotional goals I pursue

Tests in animals show that the CAU is involved in making choices. After rats had learned to press a lever to receive a tasty treat, the researchers changed the treat to make it not as nice. The healthy rats reduced how often they pressed the lever, but rats with damage to this brain area kept on pressing it almost as much.

So problems in the CAU seem to impair decision making, including learning what is the best choice to make – or not to make.

Yet this is no mere intellectual thing, like choosing the correct answer to a mathematical sum, no, it is involved in emotional decisions. Why? This brain area is also involved in the appreciation of beauty and romance. A study of cats with portions of the CAU removed showed they would no longer know when to stop trying to contact an object and get cosy with it. In humans with stroke damage to this area, they can show repetitive, compulsive behaviour and hyperactivity.

One experiment showed that while eating, the CAU was sending and receiving signals to the area to do with touch sensations far more in obese people than in those of normal weight. This implies that the CAU is wired to give obese people more physical comfort from eating.

Therefore we say this is about choosing to pursue an emotional goal – whether that's simply making a decision, or something to do with feeling pleasure, relief, comfort, or even romance and companionship.

Summary

How you act and feel in your pursuit of an emotional goal.

For example, do you secretly get something good out of an “unwanted” thought, feeling, or desire? Are you blind to seeing that something harms you because it provides something else along with it? Have you never reassessed the goals you’re pursuing?

May be involved with

Addictions (for anything), Obesity, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Learning problems, Low attention span, Sex and romance.

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A battered woman looks up with fear as a man with a clenched fist approaches her.

Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)

The pleasure or pain I expect

The OFC is important in expecting rewards, or punishments, from different situations – including social “punishment”, such as social exclusion. It reinforces behaviour.

When connections to and from the OFC are damaged, there are consequences in your ability to make decisions, regulate your own emotions, and to expect (or not) rewards for your behaviour.

Those with a damaged or low-volume OFC are more defensive are easily offended, or can be socially inappropriate. They may be shy and inhibited. They may find it difficult to see the badness of their own behaviour.

In the opposite way, those with large-volume OFCs are more socially confident and outgoing, they may be skilled at getting what they want, even appearing manipulative or domineering.

Therefore, the OFC is about expectation of pleasure or pain in an emotional sense, not just physical. This includes the pain of being excluded or rejected, or the reward of being accepted. It’s about your social life, where you do (or do not) expect to fit in, how you interact with those around you. Whether you expect to feel an emotional reward, or not.

Interestingly, drug addicts and alcoholics who are in long-term withdrawal show decreased activity in the OFC, implying that they may find it difficult to see what they will enjoy doing, or how they may be accepted by others. Rats which were given alcohol long-term saw their OFCs deteriorate. This implies alcoholics may find it more difficult to see any possibilities other than what they know, and to feel unwanted by others.

Summary

How you expect to feel in return for feeling something, or for acting a certain way.

For example, do you assume and expect that others will accept you, or reject you? Do you expect that something will give you pleasure or pain? If you keep experiencing your “unwanted” thought, feeling, or desire, what do you expect it to give you?

May be involved with

Addiction (for anything), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Obesity, Self-Worth, Social inappropriateness.

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An elderly man in a wheelchair looks out a window while deep in thought.

Hippocampus (HIP)

Comprehending my experiences

The HIP areas have many functions, most famously in memory and navigation. Persons with damaged HIPs have difficulty forming new memories, understanding where they are, and finding their way around. Part of the HIP is also involved in processing fear or panic. Additionally, the HIP is surrounded by an area called the Parahippocampus (P-HIP), which plays a role in recognising things you see, such as places. It also helps you to recognise “social context”, such as body language, subtle or implied comments, and sarcasm.

In a nutshell, the HIP and it’s surrounding area helps you to understand where you are and where you are going. It remembers what you are experiencing, it can know whether you are in danger, and it can read the subtle social context when you are around other people. In other words, it’s the about the comprehension and memorising of what you’re experiencing in life.

The HIP is smaller than normal in some people with depression, obesity, long-term stress, and memory loss. This seems understandable, as people who are depressed or under long-term stress may appear to shut down to the world around them, have memory problems, an feel like “everything is under a grey cloud”. Those who are obese may not even realise how much they are eating, or how unhealthy their lives have become.

If your HIP area is under-used, you may find it more difficult to comprehend and react to your every day experiences. Perhaps it is too painful – for whatever reason – and it’s safer to shut down and retreat into yourself.

Summary

How you are able, or not, to take in and comprehend your experiences in life.

For example, is facing up to life too much? Must you be blind to some of it? Do you feel confused or overwhelmed by your experience of life? Can you cope? Is comprehending life too painful? Would you rather avoid it?

May be involved with

Stress, Anxiety, Panic attacks, Social phobia, Obesity, Depression

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Question marks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are the brain area associations always right?

Probably not. Not everyone with issues listed under “May be involved with...” will have something in that brain area. Multiple brain areas are needed to create any problem, so you don’t have to have all of them.

Will that brain area physically change due to the rewiring?

The example of the London taxi drivers shows that it may. When London taxi drivers had their brains scanned, it showed that the longer they had been a taxi driver, the bigger a portion of their hippocampuses (HIP) had become. The HIP is involved with navigation, amongst other things.

Brain changes have also been seen in people who have learned a musical instrument, and those who learned another language. These changes are not huge, but they are measurable.

So we feel that it’s reasonable to believe that a therapy, which aims to alter your normal way of thinking, could potentially change your brain’s structure in some subtle way over a period of time.

How reliable is the research into the brain areas?

It is a mixed bag. Such research is time-consuming and expensive, and with so much yet undiscovered in the brain, it is wildly incomplete. We are simply making the best of what’s available. In time, more research will be published, our understanding will grow, and we will try to move our therapy along with it.

Are some problems in our DNA?

Partially, yes, but it may not matter. Please see this page for more information.

What about hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammation, and toxins?

Every emotion we feel involves hormones and neurotransmitters. They can also be influenced by our immune system.

The body is full of hormonal and neurotransmitter cycles as they are created, recycled, and destroyed. They also exist in a fine balance of one against another. When there are too many or too few of one, an imbalance results, and emotional turmoil can occur.

Toxins and inflammation can cause strong negative feelings. If our bodies are fighting off an infection, as the bacteria die their dead parts can act as toxins in the brain, causing inflammation (this is called a Herxheimer reaction). Inflammation can also be caused by autoimmune problems, where the body attacks its own tissue. Inflammation can cause deep depression, anxiety, and suicidal feelings.

This means that you can perform hundreds of Self-Rewiring sessions (or indeed sessions of any effective therapy) and you will get little out of it, if the real cause of your problem is a physical problem with hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammation, or toxins.

What research is the information on this page based upon?

Generally accepted, mainstream research, mostly sourced from Wikipedia and papers on PubMed.

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Summary table

This list is a summary of what is above. Note that this research is incomplete, controversial, and likely to be updated in the future.

Personality trait Brain area(s) that may be associated
Addiction Anterior Cingulate Cortex, Basal ganglia, Caudate Nucleus, Insular Cortex, Orbitofrontal cortex
Anorexia Insular Cortex
Anxiety Amygdala-Left, Amygdala-Right, Insular Cortex, Suprachiasmatic Nucleus
Being overwhelmed by others emotions Insular Cortex
Being self-critical Amygdala-Left
Depression Amygdala-Left, Hippocampus
Empathy Amygdala-Left, Insular Cortex
Gender identity Amygdala-Left, Amygdala-Right, Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis
Giving parental care The Preoptic Area (also see “Empathy”)
Interpersonal conflict The Preoptic Area
Learning problems Caudate Nucleus
Low attention span Caudate Nucleus
Maturity Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis
Obesity Anterior Cingulate Cortex, Basal ganglia, Caudate Nucleus, Hippocampus, Orbitofrontal cortex, Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (also see “Addiction”)
OCD Anterior Cingulate Cortex, Caudate Nucleus, Orbitofrontal cortex
Paedophilia Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis (also see “Sex and romance”)
Panic attacks Hippocampus
Political views Amygdala-Right
PTSD Amygdala-Left, Anterior Cingulate Cortex (also see “Anxiety”)
Self-control Basal ganglia
Self-worth Orbitofrontal cortex
Sense of self Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis
Sex and romance Amygdala-Left, Amygdala-Right, Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis, Caudate Nucleus, The Preoptic Area, Suprachiasmatic Nucleus
Shyness Amygdala-Right, The Preoptic Area
Social inappropriateness Orbitofrontal cortex
Social isolation Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis, Hippocampus
Social phobia Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis
Social place Bed Nucleus of Stria Terminalis
Stress Hippocampus
Unable to recognise emotions Insular Cortex

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