Sunday, April 14, 2024

William & Mary Seminar Discusses the Neuroscience of Emotions and Behaviors

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

WILLIAMSBURG — Neuroscience explains that emotions that result from complex chemical interactions within the brain, and romantic love is a particularly confusing cocktail. 

This is according to William & Mary’s “The Chemistry of Emotion & Behavior,” a first-year seminar course in which students read and discuss peer-reviewed literature to better understand the biochemical basis for emotion, behavior and personality.

Randy Coleman, a professor of chemistry, designed the course 20 years ago and has been teaching it ever since. Coleman will retire in May after 54 years of service at W&M, so this is the final semester the course will be offered, according to an article at W&M News.

“It’s been a fun class to teach,” said Coleman. “It’s wonderful to see young men and women get excited about the brain and chemistry. By the time the course has ended, they begin to understand that what’s going on in their brains is being exhibited in their behaviors.”

The university notes that learning these concepts benefits students on both an academic and a personal level.

“Taking this course allowed me to enact empathy on a whole new level,” said Charlotte Bandekow. “It’s not just the amazing topics, well-chosen readings and student-led discussions that make the class so highly demanded — it’s largely in part because of Professor Coleman himself. He is such an intelligent and inspirational individual. Most importantly, he cares deeply about each and every one of his students.”

Coleman enjoys being in the classroom year-round, but there are particular connections that he likes to make in the spring semester.

“I love teaching this course in the spring because I like to get students thinking about love and the chemicals in the brain that are important for that,” said Coleman. “When people fall in love, their brains kick out quite a few chemicals, leading to many different behaviors. People are, more or less, ‘crazy in love.’”

Coleman explained that students enjoy learning about the roles that various chemicals play in the process of falling in love.

For example, Coleman explained that familial and platonic love involve many of the same chemicals as romantic love, but levels and proportions differ.

“People might have higher levels of those chemicals while with their love partners as compared to family and friends,” said Coleman. “Depending on the quantities released by the brain, the blend of chemicals probably differs but still provides feelings of pleasure, contentment and happiness.”

The course delves into other emotions, too, and the small class size and atmosphere allow students to openly discuss a variety of topics, according to the article.

“This class taught me what it was like to sit down and talk about my thoughts, feelings and curiosity with people from various backgrounds,” said biology major Aqsa Atif. “I formed intimate connections with my classmates because of the small class size and discussion-based structure. Additionally, Professor Coleman was always a ray of sunshine in the classroom at eight in the morning!”

To read more about the chemicals and science, see the full W&M News article.

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