Memory and emotions

The emergence of primary anoetic consciousness in episodic memory

Frontiers in Behavioural Science, 3 January 2014, doi: 10.3389/fnbeh  ::  Marie Vanderkerckhover, Luis Bulnes & Jaak Panksepp, Vrije University Brussels, Washington Uiversity  ::

Summary and review of the above paper

The authors discuss how emotional experience becomes cognitively orientated in areas such as the episodic memory. The episodic memory has the ability to re-experience past events and envisage future plans. Conscious experience is seen as being based on lived experiences recalled from the episodic memory. Positive emotional pathways related to this system are seen as indicating strategies that are promising for survival, while negative emotional pathways reflect approaches that are challenging for survival.


research_diagramThe unconscious process of laying down memories allows emotional experiences to be recorded in episodic memories. These appear as a continuous stream of multisensory and emotion-related representation. Such emotion-based memories can be utilised in the subsequent evaluation of new material signalled from the environment. Emotional responses which are not consciously perceived are also seen to be capable of influencing subsequent behaviour.

Cognitive region and emotions

The cognitive regions of the brain are not essential for generating a level of emotional response. The lower-level unconscious emotion can influence reactions or thoughts, body language or speech tone. This suggests a level of evaluation which is initially separate from cognitive evaluations. Emotional activity is dependent on the combination of sensory signals and limbic processing. The authors talk in terms of a fundamental neural substrata involving reciprocal relationships, such as that between the ventral striatum and the medial frontal cortical regions. Ideas of a self are suggested to also derive from this emotional system. The emotional experience of ‘how we are’ is here suggested to be coupled to how we behave in the world.

a_07_p_tra_3aEmotional experience

Emotional experiences are suggested to be related to the midline subcortical networks and the medial frontal cortical regions. Prefrontal and temporal activations are seen as being supported by limbic structures such as amygdala, insula and anterior cingulate. These brain regions are seen as being involved with consciousness, and also to be related to representation of the self. The episodic record or narrative history is viewed as defining the self concept, and helping to decide our actions. The remembering of events in the episodic memory is seen as being pervaded by the emotional re-experiencing of events and their related qualia. The emotion-related nature of the episodic memory is stressed to be quite distinct from the semantic or factual memory, which mainly lacks these emotional colourings even where there are facts relating to the self.

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