Emotions May Be Learned, Not Innate

A provocative new paper suggests that emotions are not innately programmed into our brains, but in fact are cognitive states resulting from the gathering of information.

New York University Professor Joseph LeDoux, author of “The Emotional Brain,” and Dr. Richard Brown, professor at the City University of New York, posit that conscious experiences, regardless of their content, arise from one system in the brain.

“Specifically, the differences between emotional and non-emotional states are the kinds of inputs that are processed by a general cortical network of cognition, a network essential for conscious experiences,” said LeDoux.

As a result, LeDoux and Brown observe, “the brain mechanisms that give rise to conscious emotional feelings are not fundamentally different from those that give rise to perceptual conscious experiences.”

Their paper appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers believe the new theory addresses a notable gap in neuroscience. That is, while emotions, or feelings, are the most significant events in our lives, there has been relatively little integration of theories of emotion and emerging theories of consciousness in cognitive science.

Existing work theorizes that emotions are innately programmed in the brain’s subcortical circuits. As a result, emotions are often treated as different from cognitive states of consciousness, such as those related to the perception of external stimuli.

In other words, emotions aren’t a response to what our brain takes in from our observations, but, rather, are intrinsic to our makeup.

Cognition, classically, refers to psychological processes involved in acquisition and understanding of knowledge, formation of beliefs and attitudes, and decision making and problem solving.

However, after taking into account these view on both cognition and emotion, LeDoux and Brown see a quite different architecture for emotions, one more centered on process than on composition.

They conclude that emotions are “higher-order states” embedded in cortical circuits. Therefore, unlike present theories, they see emotional states as similar to other states of consciousness.

Source: New York University/EurekAlert