Ask a roomful of neuroscientists to define the term “emotion” and you will trigger a lively discussion. Some will argue that emotions involve conscious experiences that can be studied only in humans. Others might counter that insects and other invertebrates exhibit some of the emotion building blocks seen in mammals. Some will contend that different emotions correspond to anatomically distinct areas of the brain, whereas others argue that emotions are produced in a highly distributed manner. Still others will bring up the 19th-century psychologist William James’s argument that emotions are a consequence, not a cause, of behavior.
In The Neuroscience of Emotion, Ralph Adolphs and David J. Anderson argue that before we can study it, we must first define what we mean by “emotion.” Only then, they maintain, can we form appropriate and testable hypotheses.
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