Unraveling the Biology of Emotions
There’s a lot of discussion about love, happiness and contentment on university campuses, but much of it is coming from academic researchers in their labs, not romantically inclined college students on the lawns.
More importanty, much of this scientific research is increasingly focused on how emotional states affect human health and well-being.
Equivalent to Discoveries in Particle Physics
The HealthEmotions Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of five centers nationwide receiving federal support for unraveling the mind-body connection. Researchers in Madison are particularly focused on determining the biological basis of human emotional response, which could shed light on how specific emotions affect states of wellness and disease.
Ned Kalin, M.D., chair and Hedberg professor of psychiatry and director of the Institute, explained, “We know that emotions are more than just a feeling state — that they are whole-body states that activate hormonal responses, the cardiovascular system and other systemic reactions. What we are trying to determine is how these emotions originate biologically and how they influence an individual’s subsequent health status.”
The first issue of the Institute’s HealthEmotions newsletter published in 2000 noted, “Understanding how the brain experiences emotion and how positive states of mind influence the body is part of the next great frontier in the brain sciences. It is the life science equivalent of discovering the fundamental particles that constitute the building blocks of matter in physics.”
Emotions: Not a Heart Condition
Jack Thompson, Ph.D., professor in the department of psychology and psychobiology at Centre College, Danville, Ky., and author of Psychobiology of Emotions, pointed out that humans have taken the long route in pursuit of an anatomically and physiologically accurate explanation for their emotions. He pointed to the long era of misinformation that preceded modern knowledge.