Editor’s Column – Emotional Brain Issue


me with kiki

Andrea Scarantino, Department of Philosophy & Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University

I am very pleased to welcome you to the first online edition of the Emotion Researcher. I am hopeful that you will appreciate the new possibilities offered by the online platform. Most importantly, you will now be able to comment on the articles being published, email them, share them on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, explore further work by the author through hyperlinks, access and search past issues of Emotion Researcher, link to the newsletter from your own website, and keep track in real time of emotion conferences and other news relevant to our field.

The success of the online version will largely depend on what we do with it as a community. I am just as curious as you are to see how things will go! I encourage you to participate, and to contact me with ideas for future issues and comments on how to continue improving the Emotion Researcher. I am convinced that the public nature of an online platform will greatly benefit ISRE in the long run, solidifying its position as the premier international society for the study of emotions.

I want to thank Jerry Parrott for having chosen me as the new ER editor, Arvid Kappas for having been a strong supporter of the online format, and Christine Harris for having done such a great job as the previous editor. A shout out also goes to Nathan Consedine, who edited the Emotion Researcher jointly with Christine at the beginning of her tenure, and to all past editors of the newsletter.

You will notice a couple of changes in addition to the online format. The first is a new Interviews section, in which I plan to collect interviews with prominent emotion theorists about their life and research. I could not be happier with how the interview with Joe LeDoux went. Joe was incredibly generous with his time and shared lots of personal information, pictures and even videos of his life as the front man of the Amygdaloids, New York’s most famous band named for a part of the brain. Most importantly, Joe released a truly substantive interview on the evolving nature of his cutting-edge research, which I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.

The second change is a new Young Researcher Spotlight section, in which a young emotion researcher offers a self-presentation of his or her work. I am hoping that over time this section will allow our community to get to know some of the best work being done by young researchers around the world in a variety of disciplines. The first featured researcher is psychologist Iris Mauss, whose work covers the degree of coherence among different components of emotional responses, people’s ability to regulate emotions, and individual and cultural differences in what people believe about emotions. Check out her intriguing work in the Spotlight section.

This issue is entitled The Emotional Brain. I chose this as the inaugural topic of the online edition because of the importance the study of the brain basis of emotions has acquired in recent emotion research. I thought it was time to take stock of what we have learned over the past few years about how the brain implements emotions. As it turns out, we have learned a lot, even though we are far from having reached an age of consensus about which framework and techniques to adopt for our exploration.

Four leading specialists in affective neuroscience and psychology are going to give us a fascinating tour of some of the main live options. Jaak Panskepp summarizes his influential position on the existence of seven primary process emotional systems in the brain, which he refers to as SEEKING, LUST, CARE, PLAY, RAGE, FEAR, and PANIC. These systems combine with learning and higher cognition to generate the rich panoply of human emotions. One of Panskepp’s distinctive proposals is that the activation of primary process neural systems generates feelings in both human and non-human animals. In his contribution, he explores the payoffs that his framework can offer for developing animal behavioral models of psychiatric disorders, reporting in particular on new possible interventions for human depression.

Kristen Lindquist presents an alternative psychological constructionist view, according to which emotions are built in the brain from more primitive building blocks that are not themselves specific to emotion. One of the key constructionist proposals is that a person experiences an emotion when he or she makes a “situated conceptualization” of an underlying core affective state. This approach connects emotional experience and conceptual knowledge in a tight embrace. Lindquist argues that the constructionist model offers the best explanation of the neuroimaging data, accounting for instance for the lack of one-to-one correspondence between discrete emotions and specific brain areas.

Luiz Pessoa explores how a network perspective can help us understand the interaction between emotion and cognition. On his view, the mapping between structure and function in the brain is both pluripotent (one-to-many) and degenerate (many-to-one). His central suggestion is that the unit of analysis in affective neuroscience should be networks of co-activated brain regions. One of the implications of his analysis is that the age-old distinction between emotion and cognition collapses. Brain regions are neither “cognitive” nor “emotional”, because the same brain region can contribute to traditionally cognitive or traditionally emotional processes depending on the network in which it is recruited.

Stephan Hamann emphasizes how assessing the neuroimaging evidence becomes complicated in the presence of theoretical models as diverse as basic emotion theory, psychological constructionism, and LeDoux’s recent survival circuits idea (more details on the latter in LeDoux’s interview in this issue). Hamann argues that a major outstanding challenge for affective neuroscience is to reconcile these models in light of the evidence that functional neuroimaging and other neuroscience methods provide, and he offers some suggestions towards integration.

All in all, these four articles offer a compelling view that the study of the emotional brain is alive and well. Cumulatively, they serve as a warning to researchers in other fields that reverse inferences from the activation of an isolated brain region to the involvement of folk psychological emotions like fear, anger, disgust, happiness, sadness etc. – let alone emotion writ large – are to be drawn very cautiously.


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