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Limbic System

  1. Mark B. Hamner,
  2. Jeffrey P. Lorberbaum,
  3. Mark S. George

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0509

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Hamner, M. B., Lorberbaum, J. P. and George, M. S. 2010. Limbic System. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Medical University of South Carolina

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Broca described the “great limbic lobe” of the brain as a large cerebral convolution that lies medially and envelops the brain stem and is common to all mammals (Broca, 1878). The limbic lobe was thought to be important in olfaction due to its dense connections with the olfactory cortex and was often referred to as the rhinencephalon (smell brain). Papez, in 1937, proposed that the rhinencephalon was also important in emotional behavior. In 1952, MacLean coined the term limbic system to refer to both a medial part of the cortex that enveloped the brain stem and to subcortical structures that were tightly associated with this region. He based this group not only on its anatomic location but also on evidence that this region was well developed only in mammals, was phylogenetically older than the more peripheral neocortex, and appeared to be important in emotional and social behavior (1990). The limbic, or paleomammalian, system of the brain is shown in Figure 1 in relation to higher cortical (or neomammalian) and deep brain (or reptilian) structures. MacLean's subdivisions of the limbic system (1990) include the amygdala, septal, and thalamocingulate divisions shown in Figure 2. Extensive preclinical and clinical observations have suggested that the limbic system is critical in learning, memory, emotions, social behaviors, and autonomic responses. This article will briefly review the definition and anatomy of the limbic system, describe the three limbic subdivisions, and discuss evidence for and against the limbic system construct.


  • brain;
  • cerebrum;
  • emotional behavior;
  • limbic system;
  • neuroscience