CHAST - 2011 Templeton Lecture: The Emotional Brain

17 October 2011

Presented by the Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Technology (CHAST)

Speaker: Professor Joseph LeDoux, Center for Neural Science, New York University.

The study of emotion has been hampered by a fixation on feelings. Feelings are important, but not all important. Problems arise when we use feelings, and their semantic labels, as guides to studying brain function in other animals.

Rather than imposing concepts based on human introspective experience to the brains of other creatures, we should attempt to understand how the human brain is similar to the brains of other animals. This then becomes a foundation for understanding differences between humans and other animals.

I propose that much of what is called emotion in studies of other animals is accounted for by the operation survival circuits, circuits involved in defense, energy/nutrition supplies, fluid balance, thermoregulation and procreation. These circuits are highly conserved in mammals, including humans. While the behavioral expression of survival circuits can be species-specific, the circuits are species-general.

Some other approaches also emphasise the adaptive function of emotions, but typically define emotions in terms of feelings.

Survival functions are the real topic in most animal studies of emotion. By focusing on the adaptive function itself (rather than the behavioral expression or the conscious consequences) of survival circuits we have a way of characterising phenomena that fall under the rubric of 'emotion' in all mammals (perhaps all animals) without recourse to feelings.

Feelings are what happens when consciousness witnesses the overall outcome (in the brain and body) of survival circuit activation. Feelings, which cannot be studied scientifically in non-human organisms, are neither necessary nor sufficient to understand survival circuits and their functions.

By reorienting the comparative study of emotions around survival circuit functions, we have the opportunity to understand similarities and differences in emotional functions between humans and other animals.

Free admission, no bookings. All welcome.

Time: 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Location: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney

Cost: Free

Contact: Dr Valerie Morris

Phone: 02 9351 5080

Email: 15360a1919231f201e1a0b441a230d2640193c0f0f6d1041

More info: