Differential Hemispheric Lateralization of Primary and Social Emotions Implications for Developing a Comprehensive Neurology for Emotions, Repression, and the Subconscious

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Eleven patients underwent injection of amobarbital into their right and left internal carotid arteries (Wada test) to determine propositional language dominance as part of a standard clinical evaluation when considering ablative neurosurgery for control of epileptic seizures. During the right-sided injection, patients were asked to recall verbally an emotional life experience that had been identified before the Wada test as part of a research project to assess affective prosody. To our astonishment, most of the patients dramatically altered their recall of the affective but not the factual content of the life event. This paper recounts these serindipitous and unexpected observations and, in conjunction with a literature review, develops the formative concept that social emotions are modulated by the left hemisphere, whereas primary emotions are modulated by the right hemisphere, a hypothesis that readily encompasses two divergent but commonly held views concerning the lateralization of emotions in the brain—all (primary) emotions are modulated by the right hemisphere versus positive emotions are modulated by the left hemisphere while negative emotions are modulated by the right. A comprehensive neurology of emotions relevant to understanding psychiatric behaviors is then synthesized, which also accounts for the psychological constructs of repression and the subconscious.

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