Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans

Consciousness and Cognition 14 (1):30-80 (2005)

The position advanced in this paper is that the bedrock of emotional feelings is contained within the evolved emotional action apparatus of mammalian brains. This dual-aspect monism approach to brain–mind functions, which asserts that emotional feelings may reflect the neurodynamics of brain systems that generate instinctual emotional behaviors, saves us from various conceptual conundrums. In coarse form, primary process affective consciousness seems to be fundamentally an unconditional “gift of nature” rather than an acquired skill, even though those systems facilitate skill acquisition via various felt reinforcements. Affective consciousness, being a comparatively intrinsic function of the brain, shared homologously by all mammalian species, should be the easiest variant of consciousness to study in animals. This is not to deny that some secondary processes cannot be evaluated in animals with sufficiently clever behavioral learning procedures, as with place-preference procedures and the analysis of changes in learned behaviors after one has induced re-valuation of incentives. Rather, the claim is that a direct neuroscientific study of primary process emotional/affective states is best achieved through the study of the intrinsic , albeit experientially refined, emotional action tendencies of other animals. In this view, core emotional feelings may reflect the neurodynamic attractor landscapes of a variety of extended trans-diencephalic, limbic emotional action systems—including SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC, and PLAY. Through a study of these brain systems, the neural infrastructure of human and animal affective consciousness may be revealed. Emotional feelings are instantiated in large-scale neurodynamics that can be most effectively monitored via the ethological analysis of emotional action tendencies and the accompanying brain neurochemical/electrical changes. The intrinsic coherence of such emotional responses is demonstrated by the fact that they can be provoked by electrical and chemical stimulation of specific brain zones—effects that are affectively laden. For substantive progress in this emerging research arena, animal brain researchers need to discuss affective brain functions more openly. Secondary awareness processes, because of their more conditional, contextually situated nature, are more difficult to understand in any neuroscientific detail. In other words, the information-processing brain functions, critical for cognitive consciousness, are harder to study in other animals than the more homologous emotional/motivational affective state functions of the brain
Keywords *Consciousness States  *Dualism  *Emotions  *Mammals  *Neuropsychology  Behaviorism  Brain  Fear  Panic
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DOI 10.1016/j.concog.2004.10.004
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