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What does the limbic system do?

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Quick Answer

The limbic system plays an important role in emotion and the formation of memories. Several structures comprise the limbic system, including the hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala.

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The hippocampus plays a vital role in converting short-term memory into lasting, long-term memories. Without a functional hippocampus, normal memory retention is not possible. Two nearby masses of neurons called the amygdalas are responsible for behaviors related to aggression, fear and sexual stimuli.

The hypothalamus affects a wide variety of conditions including hunger, thirst, pain and pleasure. It also plays a role in the regulation of blood pressure, pulse and breathing. Overall, the hypothalamus is one of the most important parts of the brain in controlling homeostasis, or the ability of the body to maintain normal operation.

Other areas near the limbic system affect and are affected by it. The prefrontal cortex, a part of the frontal lobe, is especially important in decision making and impulse control and is one of the last areas of the brain to fully develop. The basal ganglia play a role in attention and repetitive behaviors. The cingulate gyrus, part of the cerebellum, helps with associative memory, especially as it relates to emotion. The ventral tegmental area and its dopamine pathways is closely related to the experience of pleasure.

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