The Future

Emotion is now a hot topic in cognitive science in general and in neuroscience in particular. Future directions can be classified under two general topics: (i) development of a theoretical framework for thinking about emotion and for generating hypotheses regarding its component processes and (ii) further empirical investigations using new methods and using new combinations of methods and species. Especially important will be studies that combine different techniques, such as functional imaging and lesion methods, and studies that combine the same paradigms in different species, such as infant humans and monkeys. Such a multifaceted approach to investigating emotion is in fact being pursued by many laboratories. Currently, neuroscientists, psychologists, and anthropologists are collaborating on several of these issues.

A very difficult, but very important, problem to address in the future is the relation between emotion and consciousness. Recent proposals, for instance, by Antonio Damasio and Jaak Panksepp, have stressed that a proper understanding of emotion may in fact provide the key to understanding one particular feature of conscious experience: the fact that consciousness is always experienced from the particular point of view of the subject. The subjectivity of conscious experience shares in common with the feeling of an emotion that it requires a neural instantiation of a subject; that is, both require a set of structures in the brain that map and represent the organism and its ongoing state changes as the organism interacts with its environment. This proposal is in line with findings that damage to right hemisphere structures involved in self-representation also impairs the ability to experience emotions. The further investigation of the neural basis of such a mechanism, and of its enormous elaboration in humans, may provide us with a better understanding not only of emotion but also of the nature of conscious experience and its role in human cognition.

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