We all know humans have a complex range of emotions – from anger to fear, aggression to happiness. For something so familiar to all of us, it’s amazing how vexing and difficult a problem it still is in brain science.
David Anderson, professor of biology at California Institute for Technology, hopes this will change. He believes his and other researchers’ efforts will provide a much better understanding of what an emotion is in the brain.
It has long been thought that the chemicals our bodies create largely regulate the way we feel, but Anderson thinks it could also be down to the wiring within our brains. His experiments on mice and flies that switch on and off light-sensitive neurons have shown that the neurons that control aggressive behaviour are the same or similar to the neurons that control sexual behaviour. It offers the intriguing notion that the neurons that control sex and violence are intimately linked or overlapping in the brain.
It’s these and other insights in the field that are beginning to uncover how emotions are encoded in the brain. The hope is that these intriguing findings will also provide a better understanding of how an emotion can go wrong in psychiatric disorders like depression, and how we can go about treating it.
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