The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

The processing of emotion was an enduring concern for early biologists and psychologists. Charles Darwin devoted a monograph to the expression of emotion in men and animals and argued for an evolutionary understanding of emotions as a biological phenomenon. William James considered emotions a key topic in his investigations of the science of mental life. Despite this early interest, emotions were not a major focus in the development of modern cognitive neuroscience. Instead, efforts to understand mental life focused primarily on reason or cognition. Recently, this neglect of emotions has been redressed through the growth of the new interest area of “affective neuroscience.” This integration of psychological and biological approaches has been fueled by an increasing awareness of the function of emotions in mental life and by technological and experimental advances, such as brain imaging, which have allowed the development of sophisticated experimental approaches to the study of emotions. In this course, we will begin with the early history of the investigation of emotions in order to define our terms and then quickly proceed to the new experimental work being developed in both human and animal models. Some of the questions to be entertained are: What brain systems regulate emotions? How do emotions modulate memories? How are different emotions processed by the brain? How do emotions and reason interact to shape decision-making? This is a joint seminar. Open to sophomores and above.