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What Is the Limbic System?

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Definition:

The limbic system is a group of structures in the brain associated with emotions and drives. It is made up of four main structures: the amygdala, the hippocampus, regions of the limbic cortex, and the septal area. These structures form connections between the limbic system and the hypothalamus, thalamus, and cerebral cortex. The hippocampus is important in memory and learning, while the limbic system itself is central in the control of emotional responses.

The limbic system is associated with a number of functions including the sense of smell, behavior, learning, long-term memory, emotions, and drives. The word limbic comes from the Latin word limbus, which roughly means "belt" or "border." This system is shaped somewhat like a doughnut and forms an inner border to the cortex.

The limbic system influences other systems including the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. It is also linked to the prefrontal cortext and the brain's pleasure center. A 1954 study by Olds and Milner inserted electrodes into areas of the limbic system of rats. These areas were stimulated whenever the rats pressed on a lever. Researchers found that the rats would actually ignore food and drink in preference of pressing the lever repeatedly, causing the animals to eventually die from exhaustion.

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References:

Olds, J., Milner, P. 1954. Positive reinforcement produced by electrical stimulation of septal area and other regions of rat brain. J.Comp. Physiolo. Psycholo. 47, 419–427

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