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Book Forum: How the Mind Works   |    
Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:1805-1805. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.10.1805
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By Jaak Panksepp. New York, Oxford University Press, 1998, 466 pp., $70.00.

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Jaak Panksepp has accomplished a major undertaking that will benefit every scholar, researcher, and clinician interested in learning the neural basis of emotion. The book comes to the Journal Book Forum with some delay from the date of publication. Given the nature of the monograph this seems to be a minor issue. In fact, the author describes and discusses such a large amount of scientific literature (well beyond what even a thorough MEDLINE search would yield) to make the book a necessary source of bibliography for the investigator and the student of the neuroscience of affect.

The structure of the book testifies that this work was written "with the student firmly in mind" (p. vii). Much space is given to the description of the history and the major constructs of affective neuroscience. Methodological problems inherent to studying events once considered immeasurable because they belong to a realm of subjective experience are discussed as well. The book also contains a primer on the anatomy of the brain-mind relationship, a primer on electrical brain functioning and connections, and a primer on brain neurochemistry.

From the outset, Panksepp is clear about the ability to study and understand emotion in the same fashion as cognitive phenomena. The components of affect can be dissected, analyzed in their individual aspects, and linked to the fundamental neurobiological substrate. In this regard, the book represents a coming of age of the study of emotion as rooted in brain science.

A firm point of the book is that important inferences can be made from the study of animal models of affective phenomena. Throughout the monograph, research on animal emotion has a prime position. A case is made for the study of animal behavior and its extrapolations to human affect and emotion to pave the way for an understanding of human affect and consciousness.

From his experience with animal studies, Panksepp posits that there are several ingrained emotional operating systems in the brain, including the systems for seeking behavior, fear, panic, and rage. Along with these, there is a sophisticated special-purpose social emotional system that may mediate sexual lust, maternal care, and play. These inherited circuits support specific functions. For example, the seeking circuits are engaged during interest, curiosity, and eager anticipation. The rage circuits allow reactions of aggression or irritation to threats of a physical or psychological nature. Fear and anxiety circuits help to protect the animal from physical harm. All these circuits are grounded in control systems that also control the sleep/waking cycle. In this regard, Panksepp’s proposal about a function of sleep/dreams is interesting. He suggests that "perhaps what is now the REM state [of sleep] was the original form of waking consciousness in early brain evolution, when emotionality was more important than reason in the competition for resources" (p. 128). In short, this form of waking consciousness might have been later suppressed in order for higher brain evolution to proceed.

Although the goal of being thorough is commendable, the book contains a few questionable editorial choices. For example, the text is enriched widely with notes placed in the end of the book. Hence, the reader often has to leave the flow of the discourse and go to the back of the book. The several appendixes at the end of the book are not disruptive of the flow, but they could have been included as regular chapters.

Throughout the book Panksepp at times takes polite issue with other distinguished colleagues. One example can be found in Appendix C, where the position of Joseph LeDoux on consciousness and feelings is contested. The problem is the question of where emotional feelings are generated. Panksepp’s position is that the brain has affective feelings even in a decorticated state:

I have argued…that the capacity to have affective feelings is an evolutionary birthright embedded within the intrinsic and ancient organizational dynamics of the mammalian brain situated largely in subcortical realms known as the extended limbic system. (p. 341)

This view is diametrically opposite to that of LeDoux , who suggests that the cortex is a storehouse for our emotional feelings.

In summary, this very scholarly book demonstrates the possibility of studying affect and emotion with rigorous scientific methods, and it is an account of the progress made so far by the field of affective neuroscience. Jaak Panksepp shares his encyclopedic knowledge in a wide variety of disciplines related to the study of affect in animals and humans, spanning from anatomy to neurophysiology and from neurochemistry to evolutional theories.




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