C. Rose Brain Series #8: Negative Emotions

Charlie Rose Brain Series“Negative Emotions” is the topic for the 8th in the series, focusing on fear, anxiety, and aggression. With his co-host Eric Kandel, Charlie welcomes the panel:

Antonio Damasio’s work has helped us understand emotion, decision making, social behavior, and even consciousness. He is the Dornsife Professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California and the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute. He’s also the author of several books, including “Descartes’ Error” and “Looking for Spinoza.”

Joseph LeDoux revolutionized his field in the 1970s by showing that emotions could be studied in animals. He’s a university professor at New York University and director of the Emotional Brain Labs at the Nathan Klein Institute. He’s also the author of the books “The Emotional Brain” and “Synaptic Self.”

Kerry Ressler studies the genetics and neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder, focusing on the interaction between genes and environment. He is a professor at Emory University.

David Anderson studies the neural circuits that control fear and anxiety. He’s a professor of neuroscience at Cal Tech and a Howard Hughes medical investigator.

At the conclusion of the show, Charlie asked each of the researchers what one question they would most like to see answered in their fields:

Joseph LeDoux — Well, I think we’ve been hearing a lot about fear, aggression. In other shows you’ve talked about vision or movement and so forth. And so we’re very good in neuroscience at understanding how pieces of the brain work or little components, little functions work. But what we don’t have is an understanding of how the brain itself works. We need a theory of the entire brain and how through that, through this operation of the brain as a whole, our self or personality comes out of the brain. We have very little clues to that.

Antonio Damasio — I’m very interested in understanding how we feel. There’s no question that we have a pretty good idea of how we emote. And we have the basic idea of the circuitries that will permit us to create this portrayal of the body when it is having an emotion, and that’s the feel. But how exactly it works, we don’t. For example, why is it that a feeling feels like anything? Why is it that a feeling feels the way it does? Why is it that you can feel pain or you can feel pleasure? There are a number of unanswered questions there. And I think that, like with many other aspects of our minds, we’re going to find the answers in neuroscience. We just need to have different approaches, but that’s my main question right now.

Kerry Ressler — What genes mediate the risk for who develops disorders and who doesn’t and then by … say, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder. What’s so exciting about this area, my final word would be, I think understanding fear disorders is far ahead of many other areas of psychiatrists because we know where to look in the brain, and we don’t know with others. So when we identify the genes with classic genetics, we can then look in the brain and it will help us understand how that part works, and new therapies and new ideas.

David Anderson — For me it’s an evolutionary question, are the genes and the brain mechanisms that control something like aggression conserved throughout evolution. What are the genes that predispose individuals to violent acts? And importantly, how can environment like social isolation act on those genetic circuits, and the neural circuits as well? So I think that issue of conservation and the fundamental nature of aggressive and violent behavior is an extremely important one we don’t understand yet.

Here are the video excerpts I found particularly beneficial (16:09). You can view the entire episode on the Charlie Rose website (link not available).