Monday, February 15, 2010

Jaak Panksepp's Affective Neuroscience

Last month, I posted an excellent interview with Jaak Panksepp conducted by Dr. Ginger Campbell, over at her always outstanding Brain Science Podcast. I re-listened to the interview yesterday (there's a lot of material to integrate in this episode), and was caught by this passage. [You can download the transcript here.]
Dr. Campbell: I wanted to talk a little bit more about the importance of recognizing that if we’re studying any kind of brain process—be it consciousness, or emotions, or whatever—we have different levels of analysis, and we need to keep these straight. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Panksepp: Absolutely. I think we have had so many controversies across the last couple of centuries on these topics that it’s a veritable and conceptual jungle out there.

But as soon as you recognize that the brainmind—or the mindbrain; I use it as a single word with no hyphen—is an evolutionarily layered organ, if you want to understand consciousness you have to go to the foundational level. And I call that the primary process level. Other people, like Endel Tulving at the University of Toronto, have called this ‘anoetic’ consciousness—experience without knowing. The next level would be where these systems connect up with learning about the world. And there’s a lot of work at that level—lots of people doing learning. I call it secondary level affect, or emotion, or consciousness. Tulving called that ‘noetic’—knowledge-based—consciousness.

And then at the highest level you have all the complex human mental abilities—thoughts, planning, intuition, creativity—a menagerie of complexities that you can never really study in animals. We don’t know whether they even have those. I call that tertiary process consciousness, or emotions.

Tulving called it ‘autonoetic;’ which is basically autobiographical memories. You as a human being, being able to time-travel, he said—moving forward and backward in time, keeping it in memory, and seeing what the future holds and how the past influenced you.

These are all very important levels. The least amount of work right now—almost no work—is at the primary process level. And I think that’s an intellectual tragedy in Anglo-American science.
I am not familiar with Tulving (so I looked him up - a ton of his papers are linked to here), but I saw some definite similarities to the work of Antonio Damasio. Fortunately, they addressed that topic as well.
Dr. Campbell: Jaak, I know that a lot of my listeners are aware of the work of people like António Damásio and Joseph LeDoux. When I was reading your description of these levels I was struck by the feeling that they are working at different levels from the level that you’re working at.

Dr. Panksepp: Absolutely. I mean they have done wonderful work. ... Damásio is a neurologist, so he has to deal with human experiences as they present themselves in a clinic. So, he has to operate at a tertiary process level.

And he has had wonderful theories. I thought that it was too close to a James-Lange theory. In Descartes’ Error, his 1994 book, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness; we have to go back to James-Lange? That was pretty much disproved a long time ago.’

Dr. Campbell: For my listeners will you remind them what that is? Because I think a lot of them don’t know.

Dr. Panksepp: Sure. James-Lange basically says that when you are confronted by a life challenge—the bear is the classic example—and you say, ‘I’d better run out of here,’ and you run away from the bear, and your heart goes pitter-patter, and your blood pressure goes up, you experience these bodily changes later as a feeling. That has been a very popular theory. A lot of people still buy into it.

Now, all of these peripheral things do control your feelings to some extent, but your feelings do not primarily originate there. They originate in the organization of the brain. But I think Damásio has been moving in that direction, because he did one of the finest brain imaging studies in humans.

You cannot image feelings with fMRI very easily—functional magnetic resonance imaging that everyone is using, because it’s available relatively inexpensively. Damásio used the right technique, which was PET scanning, where you can take a slower picture. And he asked people to get into four primitive emotional feelings —angry, scared, happy, and sad.

And when they were finally in those deep feelings, he injected them with radioactive water to see which areas of the brain were active. And, of course, I was totally delighted that the old foundations—the primitive areas of the brain—lit up. And he acknowledged that it looks like these feelings come from deep in the brain. But he has yet to write a real book on that. His 1999 book was close.

Dr. Campbell: That’s The Feeling of What Happens.

Dr. Panksepp: Yes, indeed.

Dr. Campbell: So, basically the old James-Lange theory—which was a combination of ideas from William James and Carl Lange, a Danish physiologist—was the idea that your emotions came from the body. But your experiments have shown quite convincingly that emotions come from the brain—the lower parts of the brain.

Dr. Panksepp: Yes. The evidence is overwhelming, ever since Hess –

Dr. Campbell: – made those angry cats.

Dr. Panksepp: Yes, angry cats. And you find many other emotional behaviors that you can turn on in animals. Every time you turn on an emotional behavior, the animal tells you it likes it or dislikes it: it’s never neutral about it. So, they carry the affective message.

And we finally made the simplifying assertion that the affect is fundamentally built into this neural complexity that we don’t understand; and if you ever want to really understand what affect is, you have to spend time studying those neural circuits very closely. And I am the only one left in America doing that.
I have been a big fan of Damasio's model, especially as presented in his most recent work, so it was interesting to hear a highly respected researcher (not a philosopher like Dennett) posing a different view.

By using brain stimulation approaches, Panksepp has identified seven basic emotions that are hard-wired in the neural circuits of the brain. This is different than the basic emotions most psychologists have identified (see this comparative chart, which is not up to date with Panksepp's model). I've bolded the Big Seven emotions in the following quote.
Dr. Campbell: Let’s start out by letting you just give us an overview of what you have called in your writing, ‘the big seven.’

Dr. Panksepp: I decided that the only way to make a science of this is to drop theory and follow the facts; because we have so much theory in emotional studies it will just make people’s heads spin. And most of it is at the tertiary process level. For instance, all philosophers deal up there. But they pretend that that is the final answer—which it is not.

So, we said whatever emotional behavior you can turn on by applying electrical stimulation to specific parts of the brain, those are emotional systems. Because you’re putting garbage in—you’re not putting neural information in—you’re just activating blindly a neural circuit. And if coherence comes out behaviorally, that means that emotional coherence was built into the circuits.

As a matter of fact, Williams James, of the James-Lange theory, actually had another theory. He said that whenever an animal has an instinctual response it has a feeling also. So, he had a leitmotif type of theory—a minor theory.

So, how many things can you turn on? Well, it’s debatable—you know there’s one close to another, and there’s only one thing. But in my reading and actual experience observing animals there is a seeking urge—the animal looking for resources. There is the rage that Hess originally described. There is lust—you can turn on adult animals to display sexual behavior.

There’s a fear system, where you stimulate in the central amygdala, the medial and lateral hypothalamus, in the periaqueductal gray, and you get a very scaredlooking animal. This is what people are conditioning—like LeDoux. They’re conditioning that system, but they don’t give the animal a fear system. There’s care. For lust and reproduction the mother is prepared to take care of the kids—in some species, like Titi monkeys, where the mother has to live on very nutritionally poor food, so she has to go foraging, the father becomes the main caretaker. So, there’s a nurturant type of system.

We mapped what we call the panic system, which is the separation distress call when a little one gets lost from mom or dad—it falls out of the nest, goes wandering too early, and can’t find the way back home. It begins to cry and cry to signal to the parents, ‘Find me! Take me back!’

And the last system that we postulated was the play system. Which is truly a miracle, I would say—an underused miracle in our educational system, and also understudied as a brain process.

So, these seven I can defend. That’s very conservative. No one has challenged me on any of these, really. But they have disregarded them fairly prominently in emotion.

Dr. Campbell: So, what do these circuits have in common?

Dr. Panksepp: They have a common aspect of coherence. They seem to be built as instinctual systems in the brain, so once you activate them the animal acts out an ancient scenario of behavior. Actually the behaviorists called these ‘unconditioned responses.’ And they just left it there.

And that’s what they condition. When you have a tone and an unconditioned response, the tone develops the capacity to turn on the response, and then they call it a conditioned response. That’s what LeDoux has been doing.

Dr. Campbell: But they don’t ask why do you have an unconditioned response.

Dr. Panksepp: Exactly. Why no one spent a lot of time studying the essential brain mechanisms that allow conditioning to occur is a total puzzle to me. And it still desperately needs to be worked out in great detail.

The other thing about these circuits, besides the coherent instinctual behavior, is that there is a psychological component, which we call ‘affect.’ Whenever you turn on one of these systems, the animal unambiguously tells you it either likes it or dislikes it.

Some future scientists will be able to then ask (we could ask this already, but who would fund it, I don’t know) is this feeling different than that feeling? We have the techniques to ask these questions, but no one is asking them. And to me, this type of knowledge is the foundation of psychiatry, because these are the systems that get so imbalanced and destroy people’s lives.

Dr. Campbell: Right. And all of the circuits that you’ve described are subcortical circuits, right?

Dr. Panksepp: They are; there’s no question. And the same locations have to be stimulated across mammals.

Are there more? Some friends with a philosophical bent say, ‘Well, you forgot about disgust.’ And I say, ‘No, I haven’t forgotten about it. Disgust is a sensory emotion that emerges from feelings of nausea and illness, and then it gets symbolized in the social domain as social disgust.

So, that’s a different type of feeling, and it’s not all that important for psychiatry. Maybe for obsessive-compulsive disorders where people feel like they’ve got too much dirt on their hands always, and they’re continually washing them. That might be a disgust part. The fact that feelings are built into each one of these systems finally allows us to deal with a foundational aspect of consciousness.

Dr. Campbell: How do you prove that these systems are being stimulated from the bottom up, rather than from the top down?

Dr. Panksepp: No one can get these types of responses by stimulating higher parts of the brain. And you can do radical surgery on some laboratory animals, and take away the whole top of the brain. You literally take away the whole neocortex.
His perspective is interesting to me because I don't see these as emotions but, rather, as drives. The way he describes disgust (and why he does not include that as an emotion) is more what most researchers are talking about when they talk about feelings or emotions.

I have a lot more reading to do. If you are interested, here are a few of Panksepp's articles available online.
The seven sins of evolutionary psychology
A neurochemical theory of autism
At the interface of the affective, behavioral, and cognitive neurosciences
Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans

And here is a video from

This year's recipients of the Oscar Sternbach Award are Dr. Mark Solms and Dr. Jaak Panksepp.

Jaak Panksepp Ph.D: "Ancestral Memories: Brain Affective Systems, Ancient Emotional Vocalizations, and the Sources of Our Communicative Urges." Over the last 35 years, Dr. Panksepp has almost singlehandedly created the field of affective neuroscience. His book, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundation of Human and Animal Emotions, is the definitive textbook for the field. He is the Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science at Washington State University, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Psychology at Bowling Green State University, and the author of A Textbook of Biological Psychiatry.

Mark Solms Ph.D: "A Neuropsychoanalytic Approach to 'The Talking Cure.'" Mark Solms is the director of the Arnold Pfeffer Center for Neuro-Psychoanalysis at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute; a lecturer at the University College London's Department of Psychology; a consultant in neuropsychology at the Anna Freud Center in London; and an honorary lecturer in the Academic Department of Neurosurgery at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine. Over the last 15 years, Dr. Solms has been the driving force in establishing the new field of neuro-psychoanalysis, which brings together the fields of neuroscience and psychoanalysis.

Dr. Carl Jacobs, the chair of the Program Committee at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysts, hosts the evening.

Cosponsored by the Department of Social Sciences at The New School for General Studies and the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis.

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