Reconciling cognitive and affective neuroscience perspectives on the brain basis of emotional experience

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The “affective” and “cognitive” neuroscience approaches to understanding emotion (AN and CN, respectively) represent potentially synergistic, but as yet unreconciled, theoretical perspectives, which may in part stem from the methods that these distinct perspectives routinely employ—one focusing on animal brain emotional systems (AN) and one on diverse human experimental approaches (CN). Here we present an exchange in which each approach (1) describes its own theoretical perspective, (2) offers a critique of the other perspective, and then (3) responds to each other's critique. We end with a summary of points of agreement and disagreement, and describe possible future experiments that could help resolve the remaining controversies. Future work should (i) further characterize the structure/function of subcortical circuitry with respect to its role in generating emotion, and (ii) further investigate whether sub-neocortical activations alone are sufficient (as opposed to merely necessary) for affective experiences, or whether subsequent cortical representation of an emotional response is also required.

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