What can animals' survival instincts tell us about understanding human emotion?
Can animals' survival instincts shed additional light on what we know about human emotion? New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux poses this question in outlining a pioneering theory, drawn from two decades of research, that could lead to a more comprehensive understanding of emotions in both humans and animals.
In his essay, which appears in the journal Neuron, LeDoux proposes shifting scientific focus "from questions about whether emotions that humans consciously feel are also present in other animals and towards questions about the extent to which circuits and corresponding functions that are present in other animals are also present in humans."
The neurological common ground between humans and animals includes brain functions used for survival. It is here, LeDoux contends, that researchers may gain new insights into both humans' and animals' emotions.
"Survival circuit functions are not causally related to emotional feelings, but obviously contribute to these, at least indirectly," he writes. "The survival circuit concept integrates ideas about emotion, motivation, reinforcement, and arousal in the effort to understand how organisms survive and thrive by detecting and responding to challenges and opportunities in daily life. Included are circuits responsible for defense, energy and nutrition management, fluid balance, thermoregulation, and procreation, among others."
LeDoux acknowledges that research on feelings is "complicated because feelings cannot be measured directly. We rely on the outward expression of emotional responses, or on verbal declarations by the person experiencing the feeling, as ways of assessing what that person is feeling. This is true both when scientists do research on emotions and when people judge emotions in their social interactions with one another."
We are even more limited in interpreting animals' emotions.
"When a deer freezes to the sound of a shotgun we say it is afraid, and when a kitten purrs or a dog wags its tail, we say it is happy," writes LeDoux, who is also director of the Emotional Brain Institute, part of the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. "We use words that refer to human subjective feelings to describe our interpretation of what is going on in the animal's mind when it acts in way that has some similarity to the way we act when we have those feelings."
But while he concedes that "we will never know what an animal feels," the basis for our interpretations of their emotions could eventually become more informed.
"If we can find neural correlates of conscious feelings in humansand distinguish them from correlates of unconscious emotional computations in survival circuitsand show that similar correlates exists in homologous brain regions in animals, then some basis for speculating about animal feelings and their nature would exist," LeDoux posits.
LeDoux, a professor in NYU's Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology, has worked on emotion and memory in the brain for more than 20 years. His research, mostly on fear, shows how we can respond to danger before we know what we are responding to. It has also shed light on how emotional memories are formed and stored in the brain. Through this research, LeDoux has mapped the neural circuits underlying fear and fear memory through the brain, and has identified cells, synapses, and molecules that make emotional learning and memory possible.
In addition to numerous publications in scholarly journals, LeDoux has published books that present his work to a wider audience, including The Emotional Brain (Simon and Schuster, 1998), which focuses mainly on emotion, and Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are (Viking, 2002), which casts a broader net into the areas of personality and selfhood.
Provided by New York University
- Research raises new questions about animal empathy Dec 08, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Mixed feelings not remembered as well as happy or sad ones Jun 25, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Understanding emotions without language Nov 02, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Study shows how using mental strategies can alter the brain's reward circuitry Jun 29, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- How the brain works with feelings Nov 23, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Why is zone 1 in liver more prone to ischemic injury?
16 hours ago Hi, Is it because around central vein, there is only deoxygenated blood from the vein where as in the periphery there is hepatic artery. Also why...
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
May 22, 2013 As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
Neuroscience 2 hours ago | 4.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—The human brain is able to identify individuals' voices by comparing them against an internal 'average voice' prototype, according to neuroscientists.
Neuroscience 6 hours ago | 1 / 5 (1) | 0 |
A new study determined that children and adolescents with seizures involving the temporal lobe are likely to have clinically significant behavioral problems and psychiatric illness, especially depression. Findings published ...
Neuroscience 6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
As the human body fine-tunes its neurological wiring, nerve cells often must fix a faulty connection by amputating an axon—the "business end" of the neuron that sends electrical impulses to tissues or other ...
Neuroscience 8 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
A study by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital found "substantial evidence" that a regenerative process involving damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord could hold the key to better functional recovery by most stroke victims.
Neuroscience 8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(HealthDay)—Glucosamine supplements that millions of Americans take to help treat hip and knee osteoarthritis may have an unexpected side effect: They may increase risk for developing glaucoma, a small ...
55 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health report they have discovered in mouse studies that a small molecule released in the spinal cord triggers a process that is later experienced in the brain as ...
6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Teams of highly respected Alzheimer's researchers failed to replicate what appeared to be breakthrough results for the treatment of this brain disease when they were published last year in the journal Science.
6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 1 |
Little is known about why asthma develops, how it constricts the airway or why response to treatments varies between patients. Now, a team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, Columbia University Medical Center ...
6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
A brief visual task can predict IQ, according to a new study. This surprisingly simple exercise measures the brain's unconscious ability to filter out visual movement. The study shows that individuals whose ...
8 hours ago | 4.9 / 5 (7) | 0 |
Even while being dragged to its destruction inside a cell, a cancer-promoting growth factor receptor fires away, sending signals that thwart the development of tumor-suppressing microRNAs (miRNAs) before it's dissolved, researchers ...
3 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |