Bill Viola, Christian Nold, Yves Netzhammer
Teresa Margolles, Valerio Magrelli, William Kentridge
Katharina Grosse, Andrea Ferrara, Elisa Biagini
Maurice Benayoun, Antonella Anedda
 
   
  Publication
Forword by James M. Bradburne
Emotional Systems by Franziska Nori
   
 

"What feelings are" Antonio Damasio
"Emotion, Rationality and Art" Ronald de Sousa
"Empathy, Movement and Emotion" David Freedberg
"The Emotions"
Peter Goldie
"The Emotional Brain" Joseph LeDoux
"Things Such as Might Happen" Martha Nussbaum
"The Theory of Emotives: A Synopsis" William M. Reddy

   
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  The entire book by neurobiologist Joseph LeDoux, a touchstone for many other specific studies on emotions, posits a relationship between emotional experience and the human consciousness, the “working memory” (that is, the memory of being in a conscious state), and sensory systems. Having listed the most famous theories of the definition and classification of the emotions, in the excerpt that appears here LeDoux, by means of practical examples as well, describes the way in which emotions (especially fear and anxiety) are experienced, thanks to the visual representations of the stimuli arriving from the amygdala and the cerebral neocortex; these representations are integrated with past experiences and the self-consciousness by means of the working memory.
   
  The Emotional Brain
Joseph Le Doux
   
  Basic Instinct A number of modern theorists carry on Darwin’s tradition in their emphasis on a set of basic, innate emotions. For many, basic emotions are defined by universal facial expressions that are similar across many different cultures. In Darwin’s day, the universality of emotional expression across cultures was presumed from casual observation, but modern researchers have gone into remote areas of the world to firmly establish with scientific methods that at least some emotions have fairly universal modes of expression, especially in the face. On the basis of this kind of evidence, the late Sylvan Tomkins proposed the existence of eight basic emotions: surprise, interest, joy, rage, fear, disgust, shame, and anguish These were said to represent innate, patterned responses that are controlled by ‘hardwired’ brain systems. A similar theory involving eight basic emotions has been proposed by Carrol Izard Paul Ekman has a shorter list, consisting of six basic emotions with universal facial expression: surprise, happiness, anger, fear, disgust and sadness. Other theorists, like Robert Plutchick and Niko Frijda do not rely exclusively on facial expressions, but instead argue for the primacy of more global action tendencies involving many body parts. Plutchick points out that as one goes down the evolutionary scale there are fewer and fewer facial expressions, but still lots of emotional expressions involving other bodily systems. Plutchik’s emotion list overlaps with the others, but also diverges to some extent – it is similar to Ekman’s, with the addition of acceptance, anticipation, and surprise. Phillip Johnson-Laird and Keith Oatley approach the problem of basic emotions by looking at the kinds of words we have for talking about emotions. They come up with a list of five that overlaps with Ekman’s six, dropping surprise. Jaak Pankseep has taken a different approach, using the behavioral consequences of electrical stimulation of areas of the rat brain to reveal four basic emotional response patterns: panic, rage, expectancy, and fear Other theorists have other ways of identifying basic emotions and their lists also overlap and diverge from the ones already described Most basic emotions theorists assume that there are also non-basic emotions that are the result of blends or mixes of the more basic ones. Izard, for example, describes anxiety as the combination of fear and two additional emotions, which can be either guilt, interest, shame, anger or distress. Plutchik has one of the better developed theories of emotion mixes. He has a circle of emotions, analogous to a circle of colors in which mixing of elementary colors gives new ones. Each basic emotion occupies a position on the circle. Blends of two basic emotions are called dyads. Blends involving adjacent emotions in the circle are first-order dyads, blends involving emotions that are separated by one other emotion are second-order dyads, and so on. Love, in this scheme, is a first-order dyad resulting from the blending of adjacent basic emotions joy and acceptance, whereas guilt is a second-order dyad involving joy and fear, which are separated by acceptance. The further away two basic emotions are, the less likely they are to mix. And if two distant emotions mix, conflict is likely. Fear and surprise are adjacent and readily blend to give rise to alarm, but joy and fear are separated by acceptance and their fusion is imperfect – the conflict that results is the source of the emotion guilt.

The mixing of basic emotions into higher-order emotions is typically thought of as a cognitive operation. According to basic emotions theorists, some if not all of the biologically basic emotions are shared with lower animals, but the derived or non-basic emotions tend to be more uniquely human. Since the derived emotions are constructed by cognitive operations, they could only be the same to the extent that two animals share the same cognitive capacities. And since it is in the area of cognition that humans are believed to differ most significantly from other mammals, non-basic, cognitively-constructed emotions are more likely than basic emotions to differ between humans and other species. Richard Lazarus, for example, proposes that pride, shame and gratitude might be uniquely human emotions. […]

The Emotional Present
I admit that I’ve passed the emotional consciousness buck. I’ve redefined the problem of emotional feelings as the problem of how emotional information comes to be represented in working memory. This won’t make you happy if you want to know exactly what a feeling is or if you want to know how something as intangible as a feeling could be part of something so tangible as a brain. It won’t, in other words, solve the mind-body problem. However, as important as solving the mind-body problem would be, it’s not the only problem worth solving. And figuring out the mindbody problem wouldn’t tell us what’s unique about those states of mind we call emotions, nor would it explain why different emotions feel the way they do. Neither would it tell us what goes wrong in emotional disorders or suggest ways of treating or curing them. In order to understand what an emotion is and how particular emotional feelings come about we’ve got to understand the way the specialised emotion systems operate and determine how the activity of these gets represented in working memory. Some might say I’m taking a big chance. I resting our understanding of our feelings, our most private and intimate states of mind, on the possibility that working memory is the key to consciousness. But really what I’m doing is using working memory as an ‘in principle’ way of explaining feelings. I’m saying that feelings come about when the activity of specialised emotion systems gets represented in the system that gives rise to consciousness, and I’m using working memory as a fairly widely accepted version of how the latter might come about.
We’ve gone into great detail as to how one specialised emotion system, the defense system, works. So let’s now see how the activity of this system might come to be represented in working memory and thereby give rise to the feeling we know as fear.

From Conscious Appraisals to Emotions: You encounter a rabbit while walking along a path in the woods. Light reflected from the rabbit is picked up by your eyes. The signals are then transmitted through the visual system to your visual thalamus, and then to your visual cortex, where a sensory representation of the rabbit is created and held in a short-term visual object buffer. Connections from the visual cortex to the cortical long-term memory networks activate relevant memories (both facts about rabbits stored in memory as well as memories about past experiences you may have had with rabbits). By way of connections between the long-term memory networks and the working memory system, activated long-term memories are inte-grated with the sensory representation of the stimulus in working memory, allowing you to be consciously aware that the object you are looking at is a rabbit.
A few strides later down the path, there is a snake coiled up next to a log. Your eyes also pick up on this stimulus. Conscious representations are created in the same way as For the rabbit – by the integration in working memory of short-term visual representations with information from long-term memory. However, in the case of the snake, in addition to being aware of the kind of animal you are looking at, long-term memory also informs you that this kind of animal can be dangerous and that you might be in danger. According to cognitive appraisal theories, the processes described so far would constitute your assessment of the situation and should be enough to account for the ‘fear’ that you are feeling as a result of encountering the snake. The difference between the working memory representation of the rabbit and the snake is that the latter includes information about the snake being dangerous. But these cognitive representations and appraisals in working memory are not enough to turn the experience into a full blown emotional experience. Davey Crockett, you may remember, said his love for his wife was so hot that it mighty near burst his boilers. There is nothing equivalent to boiler bursting going on here.
Something else is needed to turn cognitive appraisals into emotions, to turn experiences into emotional experiences. That something, of course, is the activation of the system built by evolution to deal with dangers. That system, as we’ve seen, crucially involves the amygdala.
Many but not all people who encounter a snake in a situation such as the one described will have a full blown emotional reaction that includes bodily responses and emotional feelings. This will only occur if the visual representation of the snake triggers the amygdala. A whole host of output pathways will then be activated. Activation of these outputs is what makes the encounter with the snake an emotional experience, and the absence of activation is what prevents the encounter with the rabbit from being one.
What is it about the activation of amygdala outputs that converts an experience into an emotional experience? To understand this we need to consider some of the various consequences of turning on amygdala outputs. These outputs provide the basic ingredients which, when mixed together in working memory with short-term sensory representations and the long-term memories activated by these sensory representations, create an emotional experience.

Ingredient 1: Direct Amygdala Influences on the Cortex: The amygdala has projections to many cortical areas. In fact, the projections of the amygdala to the cortex are considerably greater than the projections from the cortex to the amygdala. In addition to projecting back to cortical sensory areas that it receives inputs from, the amygdala also projects to some sensory processing areas that it does not receive from. For example, in order for a visual stimulus to reach the amygdala by way of the cortex, the stimulus has to go through the primary cortex, to a secondary region, and then to a third cortical area in the temporal lobe (this is the same area that does the short-term buffering of visual object information). This third area then projects to the amygdala. The amygdala projects back to this area, but also to the other two earlier visual processing regions. As a result, once the amygdala is activated, it is able to influence the cortical areas that are processing the stimuli that are activating the it. This might be very important in directing attention to emotionally relevant stimuli by keeping the shortterm object buffer focused on the stimuli that the amygdala is assigning significance to. The amygdala also has an impressive set of connections with long-term memory networks involving the hippocampal system and areas of cortex that interact with the hippocampus in long-lasting information storage. These pathways may contribute to the activation of long-term memories relevant to the emotional implications of immediately present stimuli. Although the amygdala has relatively meager connections with the lateral prefrontal cortex, it sends rather strong connections to the anterior cingulate cortex, one of the other partners in the frontal lobe working memory executive circuitry. It also sends connections to the orbital cortex, another player in working memory that may be especially involved in working memories about rewards and punishments (see above). By way of these connections with specialised short-term buffers, long-term memory networks, and the networks of frontal lobe, the amygdala can influence the information content of working memory. There is obviously a good deal of redundancy built into this system, making it possible for the conscious awareness of amygdala activity to come about in several ways.
In sum, connections from the amygdala to the cortex allow the defense networks of the amygdala to influence attention, perception, and memory in situations where we are facing danger. At the same time, though, these kinds of connections would seem to be inadequate in completely explaining why a perception, memory, or thought about an emotional event should ‘feel’ different from one about a non-emotional event. They provide working memory with information about whether something good or bad is present, but are insufficient for producing the feelings that come from the awareness that something good or bad is present. For this we need other connections as well.

Ingredient 2: Amygdala Triggered Arousal: In addition to these direct influences of the amygdala on the cortex, there are a number of indirect channels through which the effects of amygdala activation can impact on cortical processing. An extremely important set of such connections involve the arousal systems of the brain.
It has long been believed that the difference between being awake and alert, on the one hand, and drousy or asleep on the other is related to the arousal level of the cortex. When you are alert and paying attention to something important, your cortex is aroused. When you are drousey and not focusing on anything, the cortex is in the un-aroused state. During sleep, the cortex is in the unaroused state, except during dream sleep when it is highly aroused. In dream sleep, in fact, the cortex is in a state of arousal that is very similar to the alert waking state, except that it has no access to external stimuli and only processes internal events.
Cortical arousal can be easily detected by putting electrodes on the scalp of a huamn. These electrodes pick up the electrical activity of cortical cells through the skull. This electroencephalogram or EEG is slow and rhythmic when the cortex is not aroused and fast and out of sync (desynchronised) during arousal.
When arousal occurs, cells in the cortex, and in the thalamic regions that supply the cortex with its major inputs, become more sensitive. They go from a state in which they tend to fire action potentials at a very slow rate and more or less in synchrony to a state in which they are generally out of sync but with some cells being driven especially strongly by incoming stimuli.
While much of cortex is potentially hyper-sensitive to inputs during arousal, the systems that are processing information are able to make the most use of this effect. For example, if arousal is triggered by the sight of a snake, the neurons that are actively involved in processing the snake, retrieving long-term memories about snakes, and creating working memory representations of the snake, are going to be especially affected. Other neurons are inactive at this point and don’t reap the benefits. In this way, a very specific information processing result is achieved by a very nonspecific mechanism. This is a wonderful evolutionary trick.
A number of different systems appear to contribute to arousal. Three of these are located in regions of the brainstem. Each has a specific chemical identity, which means the cells in each contain different neurotransmitters that are released by their axon terminals when the cells are activated. One group makes acetylcholine (ACh), another noradrenaline, and another serotonin. A fourth group, also containing ACh, is located in the forebrain, near the amygdala. The axons of each these cells groups terminate in widespread areas of the forebrain. In the presence of novel or otherwise significant stimuli the axon terminals release their neruotransmitters and ‘arouse’ cortical cells, making them especially receptive to incoming signals.
Arousal is important in all mental functions. It contributes significantly to attention, perception, memory, emotion, and problem solving. Without arousal, we fail to notice what is going on—we don’t attend to the details. But too much arousal is not good either. You need to have just the right level of activation to perform optimally. If you are overaroused you become tense and anxious and unproductive.
This is sometimes called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.
Emotional reactions are typically accompanied by intense cortical arousal. Certain emotion theories around mid century proposed that emotions represent one end of an arousal continuum that spans from being completely unconscious (in a coma), to asleep, to awake but drousy, to alert, to emotionally aroused. This high level of arousal is, in part, the explanation for why it is hard to concentrate on other things and work efficiently when you are in an emotional state. Arousal helps lock you into the emotional state. This can be very useful (you don’t want to get distracted when you are in danger), but can also be an annoyance (once the fear system is turned on, its hard to turn it off – this is the nature of anxiety).
Although each of the arousal systems probably contributes to arousal in the presence of stimuli that are dangerous or that warn of danger, it appears that interactions between the amygdala and the nearby ACh containing system in the forebrain are particularly important. This ACh containing system is called the nucleus basalis. Damage to the amygdala or to the nucleus basalis prevents stimuli that warn of danger, like conditioned fear stimuli, from eliciting arousal. Moreover, stimulation of the amygdala or the nucleus basalis elicits cortical arousal artificially. And administration of drugs that block the actions of ACh in the cortex prevents these effects on arousal of conditioned stimuli, amygdala stimulation or nuclues basalis stimulation from occurring. Together, these and other findings suggest that when the amygdala detects danger it activates the nucleus basalis which then releases ACh throughout the cortex. The amygdala also interacts with the other arousal systems located in the brainstem and the overall effect of amygdala activation on arousal certainly involves these as well.
Although there are a number of different ways that the nucleus basalis cells can be turned on, the way they are turned on by a dangerous stimulus is through the activity of the amygdala. Other kinds of emotional networks most likely have their own ways of interacting with the arousal systems and altering cortical processing. Arousal occurs to any novel stimulus that we encounter and not just to emotional stimuli. The difference is that a novel but insignificant stimulus will elicit a temporary state of arousal that dissipates almost immediately but arousal is prolonged in the presence of emotional stimuli. If you are face to face with a predator it is crucial that you not lose interest in what is going on or be distracted by some other event. While this seems so obvious as to be silly, it is only so because the brain does it so effortlessly.
Why is arousal perpetuated to emotional but not to other stimuli? Again, the answer probably has to do with the involvement of the amygdala. The arousal elicited by a novel stimulus does not require the amygdala. Instead, it is mediated by direct inputs from sensory systems to arousal networks. These kinds of arousal effects quickly habituate. If the stimulus is meaningful, say dangerous, then the amygdala is brought into the act and it also activates arousal systems. This adds impetus to keep arousal going. The continued presence of the stimulus and its continued interpretation by the amygdala as dangerous continues to drive arousal systems, and these systems, in turn, keep cortical networks that are processing the stimulus in a state of hypersensitivity. The amygdala, it should be noted, is also the recipient of arousal system axons, so that amygdala activation of arousal systems also helps keep the amygdala aroused. These are self-perpetuating, viscous cycles of emotional reactivity. Arousal locks you into whatever emotional state you are in when arousal occurs, unless something else occurs that is significant enough and arousing enough to shit the focus of arousal.
The information content provided by arousal systems is weak. The cortex is unable to discern that danger (as opposed to some other emotional condition) exists form the pattern of neural messages it receives from arousal systems. Arousal systems simply say that something important is going on. The combination of non-specific cortical arousal and specific information provided by direct projections from the amygdala to the cortex allows the establishment of a working memory that says that something important is going on and that it involves the fear system of the brain. These representations converge in working memory with the representations from specialised short-term memory buffers and with representations from long-term memory triggered by current stimuli and by amygdala processing. The continued driving of the amygdala by the dangerous stimulus keeps the arousal systems active, which keeps the amygdala and cortical networks actively engaged in the situation as well. Cognitive inference and decision making processes controlled by the working memory executive become actively focused on the emotionally arousing situation, trying to figure out what is going on and what should be done about it. All other inputs that are vying for the attention of working memory are blocked out.
We now have many of the basic ingredients for a complete emotional experience. But one more is needed.

   
  The two excerpts that appear here by kind permission of the author come from chapters 5 and 6 of the celebrated work The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), translated into Italian by Sylvie Coyaud and published by Baldini & Castoldi, Milan 1998, under the title: Il cervello emotivo. Alle origini delle emozioni (second edition: 2003, Baldini, Castoldi, Dalai Editore, in the Super Nani series).
   
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