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Hypothalamus – Role in Motivation and Behavior

September 27, 2017

"Behavior is ultimately the product of the brain, the most mysterious organ of all of them." Ian Tattersall (from Become Human.Evolution and Human Uniqueness 1998)

The question why we are motivated by certain behaviors may be one of the most fundamental in psychology. As Pavlov described in her famous newspapers in dogs in 1927, scientists have considered the origins of motivations that lead us to action. During the early twentieth century, behaviorists like Watson & Skinner behaved in terms of external physical incentives, and suggested that learned responses, hedonic reward and enhancement were motives for developing a particular behavior. However, this does not tell the whole story. In recent decades, the school of cognitive psychology has concentrated on additional motivational machines: our wishes according to social and cultural factors that influence behavior. In addition, recent developments in neuroimaging technology have provided scientists with insight into the enormous complexity and modular nature of specific brain areas. This research has shown that behavior necessary for survival also has an inherent biological basis.

The biological trigger for inherent behavior such as eating, drinking and temperature control can be traced to the hypothalamus, an area of ​​the diencephalon. This article investigates the hypothalamic role in such a motivated behavior. It is important to note that a motivated behavior that results from internal hypothalamic stimuli is only an aspect of a complex and integrated response.

The hypothalamus connects the autonomic nervous system to the endocrine system and serves many vital functions. It is the homeostatic & control center & # 39; of the body, maintaining a balanced internal environment by having specific regulatory areas for body temperature, body weight, osmotic balance and blood pressure. It can be categorized as three main channels: the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system and motivated behavioral response . The central role of the hypothalamus in motivated behavior was proposed by Eliot Stellar in 1954, which suggested that " the degree of motivated behavior is a direct function of the amount of activity in certain hypothalamic excitatory centers "(p6). This postulation has inspired an abundance of subsequent investigations.

Much of this research has been in the field of thermoregulation. The ability of the body to maintain a stable internal environment is crucial for survivalas. Many crucial biochemical reactions will only function within a narrow temperature range. In 1961, Nakayama discovered et al thermosensitive neurons in the medial preoptic region of the hypothalamus. Later research showed that stimulation of the hypothalamic area initiated humoral and viscomomotor reactions such as panting, shivering, sweating, vasodilation and vasoconstriction. However, somatic motor responses are also initiated by the lateral hypothalamus. It's much more effective to go around, rub your hands or put on extra clothes if you feel cold. Also, if you are too hot, you can remove some clothes or fan yourself to cool off. These motivated behaviors show that, contrary to a fixed stimulus response, motivated behavior is stimulated by the hypothalamus having a variable relationship between input and output. This interaction with our external environment can be a & # 39; choice & # 39; , but it is clear that the motivation for making these choices has a biological basis.

The thermoregulation mechanics can be explained by what is sometimes referred to as & # 39; drive states & # 39 ;. This is essentially a feedback loop initiated by an internal stimulus that requires an external response. Kendal (2000) defines driving states as "characterized by stress and discomfort due to a physiological need followed by relief when the need is met" . The process begins with the input. Temperature changes are obtained from the peripheral environment by thermoreceptive neurons in the body, which feel both warm and cold separately . An electrical signal (the input) is then sent to the brain. Any deviation from what is known as the & # 39; set point & # 39; – in this case a temperature of about 37 ° – is then displayed as a & # 39; error signal & # 39; identified by interceptive neurons in the periventricular region of the hypothalamus. Armed with these measurements and temperature signals transmitted from the blood, the hypothalamus initiates an appropriate error response. This includes motivational behavior to make a physical adjustment, eg to move around or remove excess clothes in an attempt to control your temperature.

This type of body feedback system is common. Other systems needed to survive, such as blood salt and water regulation, are similarly regulated. However, the processes that motivate us to eat are much more complex.

People have developed a complicated physiological system to control food intake that includes a large number of organs, hormones and body systems. In addition, a wealth of experimental research supports the idea that the hypothalamus plays a key role in this energy homeostasis by activating nutritional behavior. Balancing energy balances is crucial and food is primarily for maintaining fat stores in food shortages. If body fat reserves in the body are low, they release a hormone called leptin, which is detected as an error signal through the periventricular region of the hypothalamus. This then stimulates the lateral hypothalamus to start the error response. In this case, we begin to feel hungry, which initiates the somatic motor response by motivating us to eat.

Since the hypothalamus also controls the metabolic rate by controlling blood sugar levels, we seem to have similar feedback to temperature control in theory. In practice, however, this is not a reality. The biggest difficulty in maintaining energy homeostasis is that motivation is not solely due to internal biological influences. Cultural and social factors also play an important role in motivation about when, what and how often to eat. In Western culture, social pressure can be thin, and in extreme cases, such as anorexia, the drive line must be reversed. The motivation is no longer food because they are hungry, but instead do not eat so they feel hungry. This corruption of the reward system is well documented and is associated with delusions of body image, a concept that is also linked to the hypothalamus and parietal lobe. Problems can also occur if an individual receives more stimulation to eat. The prevalence of obesity in contemporary society is testifying to this fact.

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