Many authors think that emotional disorders of brain-damaged patients result directly (as in the case of language, memory and other cognitive disorders) from the disruption of specific cortico–subcortical circuits. This claim, however, is only in part correct, as the homology between emotional and cognitive systems is partial and only some emotional disorders of brain-damaged patients are due to the disruption of specific brain structures. Other emotional disorders result from a more general mechanism, namely from the appraisal of the personal implications that physical and cognitive consequences of brain injury will have for the quality of life of the patient. The aim of this review is to stress the distinction between emotional and cognitive systems, the componential nature of emotions, the brain structures subtending the different components of emotion and the nature of the process of ‘emotional appraisal’. Starting from these theoretical premises, the author will attempt to distinguish the emotional disorders of brain-damaged patients that result from the disruption of specific brain structures from those that are due to more general appraisal and coping mechanisms.