Windmills of Your Mind: Understanding the Neurobiology of Emotion

43 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2019 Last revised: 14 Jan 2020

See all articles by Debra S. Austin

Debra S. Austin

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: April 17, 2019


Intelligence has been parsed into categories including general intelligence (IQ), which is cognitive capacity, and emotional intelligence (EQ), describing social competency. Perhaps the most important new form of intelligence that lawyers can cultivate is neuro-intelligence (NQ), which is an understanding of the most important tool a lawyer must deploy – the brain. NQ can help us understand how emotions that arise in the brain are often experienced in the windmills of the mind as “words that jangle in your head”. Boomers will enjoy the Noel Harrison version of Windmills of your Mind, which won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Original Song, while Millennials should check out the Sting version from the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crowne Affair.

This article describes the importance of developing mental strength, and challenges lawyers to enhance their understanding of the role emotion plays in their relationships with colleagues, clients, employees, and constituents. Brain Literacy defines key components of the emotional and thinking brains. The process of memory formation is illustrated in Learning and Memory. Stress and Cognition outlines the harmful impacts of stress on brain health and mental performance. Recent research results are reviewed in Law Students and Lawyers are at Risk for Impaired Well-being. The brain’s automated response to emotional stimuli is detailed in Emotion. Emotion Regulation explores methods for responding to emotion, and the difference between survival and attachment emotions. Emotion and Decision-Making depicts the process that helps us determine what outfit to wear, what rewards we are strong enough to defer to meet our long-term goals, and how public policy is shaped by emotion. Finally, Interventions to Strengthen the Mind links mental strength to happiness, explains three obstacles to developing mental strength that are commonly experienced by law students and lawyers, and provides ten practices that can promote mental strength.

This article proposes that law students, legal educators, and lawyers will benefit from developing their NQ, as well as their understanding of the impact of emotion and stress on performance, and the how building mental strength can empower their professional and personal lives. With greater NQ, individuals can improve well-being and performance, and organizations can leverage healthy human beings to enhance capacity and innovation.

Suggested Citation

Austin, Debra S., Windmills of Your Mind: Understanding the Neurobiology of Emotion (April 17, 2019). 54 Wake Forest Law Review 931 (2019), U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-06, Available at SSRN:

Debra S. Austin (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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