logo en full

Research

What motivates people? What makes them venture into uncharted territories despite doubts and apprehension? What pushes people to constantly experiment? Why do people look for new solutions when they could use the tried and true methods and process just as well? There is only one answer: the brain makes them do it.

Neural Basis of Emotions

The same chemistry that makes our pets search their surroundings, makes people explore the world and look for meaning. How do we know this? The phenomenon was researched by Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist and psychobiologist, who was interested in neural mechanisms of emotion and coined the term “affective neuroscience”. Panksepp’s approach to researching emotions significantly differed from the classic psychological theories of emotions, because it was based in biological sciences.

According to Panksepp, words (narrations) and the influence of the environment does not fully explain behaviors of people and animals. However, the behavior can be explained by the processes that originate in the brain. In the course of his long term research, Panksepp (1998) came to distinguish seven emotional systems in the brains of mammals. Some of these systems are primary evolutionary behaviors, such as seeking, rage/anger, fear/anxiety, and lust/sexuality. Another three have evolved as forms of evolutionary adaptation in mammals and include care/nurture, panic/separation, and play/joy. Each of these systems may be activated when separate (though sometimes overlapping) areas of the brain are stimulated. However, most of the time they work together to improve the adaptation of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors of an individual (Davis i Panksepp, 2011).

Programs in English
at SWPS University

Emotional Systems According to Panksepp

Firstly, emotional systems belong to the subcortical neural networks. The lower parts of the brain have the evolutionary advantage in the development of basic emotions and affects (learning and higher functions of the brain may be regarded as secondary and tertiary processes).

Secondly, according to the current research, emotional systems are located in the evolutionarily older parts of the brain and to a large extent are homologous in all mammals. Moreover, the chemistry of these systems is similar in all mammals.

Thirdly, emotional systems generate instinctive behavioral reactions, which are directly linked to primal affects that accompany these reactions. Further, the integrity of these seven systems is demonstrated in the possibility of evoking specific and cohesive emotional reactions and/or linked affects, through the localized brain stimulation. The integrity is further confirmed by the ability of subcortical innerventions to mediate the functions of “reward” and “punishment” that control the process of learning (Cwojdzińska i Rybakowski, 2015, s. 103).Systemy emocjonalne wykazują częściową odrębność ze względu na swoje umiejscowienie w mózgu i działające w ich obrębie mediatory neurochemiczne (szczegółowe omówienie biologicznych podstawy systemów emocjonalnych: patrz np. Panksepp, 1998; Panksepp, 2005 czy Panksepp, 2011). Co więcej, systemy te pozostają praktycznie nienaruszone u osobników, którym na wczesnych etapach rozwoju chirurgicznie usunięto korę nową (za: Davis i Panksepp, 2011; s. 1948).

Emotional systems show partial distinctiveness due to their localization in the brain and due to the neurochemical mediators located there (for a detailed description of biological foundations of the emotional systems see Panksepp, 1988, Panksepp, 2005 or Panksepp, 2011). Moreover, these systems remain practically untouched in individuals who have had the neocortex surgically removed, at an early stage of development (as per Davis i Panksepp, 2011; s. 1948).

Emotional System and Seeking System

Generally, all emotional systems are linked with the seeking system and the seeking system is responsible for the motivational processes. The seeking system differs from the other systems in that it participates in all processes that take place in the body of someone who is focused on a goal (Wright i Panksepp, 2012).

The biological foundation of the seeking system includes nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, the lateral hypothalamus area, the mesolimbic pathway, and the mesocortical pathway. The main neuromodulators, i.e. messengers, that are engaged here are dopamine, glutamic acid, opioids, neurotensin and many other neuropeptides.

How Does the Seeking System Work?

The seeking system is activated by indicators of a potential reward. An individual is motivated to look for the resources in his/her environment, which range from the basic ones, such as water, to the higher ones, like knowledge that helps to make sense of the world. The activation of the seeking system is coupled with a specific emotional state, i.e. psychological energy and excitation linked with anticipation. This feeling occurs in many situations and is connected with various aspects of one’s engagement with the environment. Every time you are deeply interested in something, when you are looking for answers and you discover them, your seeking system is working. The source of these feelings of engagement and excitement comes from the ascending dopamine pathways that are the core of neural systems. The higher regions of the motor cortex are also encouraged to act by dopamine. According to Panksepp (1998) “without dopamine our potential and passions are asleep.”

Animals often act in a mechanical way, most likely without a detailed analysis, but some data indicates that planning stems from an interaction between the seeking system and the higher instances of the nervous system, such as prefrontal cortex or hippocampus. The activation of this system in people is linked with curiosity, excitement and anticipation (Panksepp, 1998). It is a very pleasant feeling, however it takes a form of euphoria rather than a sensory pleasure (Wright i Panksepp, 2012).

Curiosity and interest are relatively stable personality traits and they are often present at all times rather than being activated occasionally. We know that the state of curiosity and the curiosity trait are strongly correlated. They are also linked with positive emotional states and with the popensity for stimuli seeking (Panksepp, 1998).

Anna Cwojdzińska

Overagitated/Underagitated Behavioral System and Types of Behaviors

Some data indicates that if the seeking system is pathologically agitated (overagitated), it may lead to symptoms of psychosis or delusion. On the other hand, a pathologically underactive seeking system may be the reason why an individual is not able to experience arousal or euphoria and by this may be predisposed to depression. Changes in the activity of this system may also contribute to the development of addictions, fixations or obsessions (Wright i Panksepp, 2012).

Animal research indicates that the probability for development of different behaviors depends on the initial activity level of the seeking system. Individuals, whose seeking system is easily agitated, might have a tendency to react impulsively. On the other hand, individuals, whose seeking system is mildly agitated, might lean towards compulsive behaviors (Wright i Panksepp, 2012).

Panksepp’s model and the knowledge it provides on the SEEKING system inspire the development of new approaches in the treatment of addictions, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety (Alcaro i Panksepp, 2011; Coennen i Schlaepfer, 2012; Panksepp, Knutson, B. i Burgdorf, 2002; Panksepp i Yovell, 2014; Wright i Panksepp, 2012).

Curiosity Killed the Cat, but Satisfaction Brought It Back

Curiosity, searching and discovering are very rewarding states. If you are able to awaken these feelings in yourself, they will often make your fear and sadness go away and they will create a new meaning. It does not mean that everything is so simple and that it is enough to become interested in something. However, it might be useful to realize that we are a seeking spices and that we are able to survive in any climate on this planet, thanks to the fact that we tend to live in herds, that we help each other and that some individuals are driven, by curiosity to move forward.

258 anna cwojdzinska

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Cwojdzińska – psychologist and therapist specializing in working with children and adolescents. Graduate of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Currently, she is a doctoral student at SWPS University in Warsaw and a lecturer at SWPS University in Poznań. Member of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) and Chair of the Board at KIND Kolektyw, an association for the promotion of kindness, in Poland.

Bibliography

1. Alcaro, A., & Panksepp, J. (2011). The SEEKING mind: primal neuro-affective substrates for appetitive incentive states and their pathological dynamics in addictions and depression. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(9), 1805–20. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.03.002

2. Coenen, V. A., & Schlaepfer, T. E. (2012). Panksepp’s SEEKING System Concepts and Their Implications for the Treatment of Depression with Deep-Brain Stimulation. The International Neuropsychoanalysis Society, 14(1), 43–45. http://doi.org/10.1080/15294145.2012.10773685

3. Cwojdzińska, A., Rybakowski, F. (2015) Operacjonalizacja koncepcji mózgowych systemów emocjonalnych Jaaka Pankseppa: Affective Neuroscience Personality Scales (Neuroafektywne skale osobowości). Neuropsychiatria i Neuropsychologia 10, 3/4: s. 102–109.

4. Davis, K. L., & Panksepp, J. (2011). The brain’s emotional foundations of human personality and the Affective Neuroscience Personality Scales. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(9), 1946–58. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.04.004

5. Panksepp J. (1998) Affective Neuroscience. Oxford University Press, New York

6. Panksepp, J. (2005). Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans. Consciousness and Cognition, 14(1), 30–80. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2004.10.004

7. Panksepp, J. (2011). The basic emotional circuits of mammalian brains: do animals have affective lives?, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(9), 1791–804. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.08.003

8. Panksepp, J., Knutson, B., & Burgdorf, J. (2002). The role of brain emotional systems in addictions: a neuro-evolutionary perspective and new “self-report” animal model. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 97(4), 459–69. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11964061

9. Panksepp, J., & Yovell, Y. (2014). Preclinical modeling of primal emotional affects (SEEKING, PANIC and PLAY): Gateways to the development of new treatments for depression, Psychopathology, 47(6), 383–393. http://doi.org/10.1159/000366208

10. Wright, J., & Panksepp, J. (2012). An evolutionary framework to understand foraging, wanting, and desire: the neuropsychology of the SEEKING system, Neuropsychoanalysis, 14(1), 5–75. http://doi.org/10.1080/15294145.2012.10773683

 

Popular Science Blog

Popular Science Blog 16-11-2017

Know Your Rights: Illegal Job Interview Questions

A job interview is a stressful situation. Even a well-prepared candidate may be surprised with an unexpected question. Should you answer all questions during a job interview? What should you...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 10-11-2017

New Technologies and Protection of Personal Information

The existing laws and regulations are not aligned with the current development of new technologies, which generate gaps in personal information protection systems, with an ever accelerating speed. Businesses face...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 06-11-2017

Tips for Effective Goal Setting

Your goal is your North Star. It is the reward at the end of the road, but it is also the beginning of the road. A well-defined goal provides strong...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 02-11-2017

Self-sabotage - why do we do it?

Procrastination, excuses, and overcommitting are some of the methods of self-sabotage. Professor Dariusz Doliński, social psychologist from SWPS University in Wrocław, explains why some people focus their efforts on impeding...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 27-10-2017

“It’s Complicated” - New Relationship Model

According to research conducted by Jean Williams and Jasna Jovanovic and reported in Sexuality and Culture in 2015, over the past twenty years, non-monogamous relationships have become mainstream. Will these...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 25-10-2017

The Dark Side of Women

The word “victim” is often associated with women. And the perpetrator is commonly thought of as a HE, a man, who evolutionary is programmed to hunt, conquer and be violent...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 17-10-2017

Work-Life Balance or Burden?

The more you work the more productive you are. It seems logical. If it takes X minutes to produce Y number of products then one should be able to produce...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 09-10-2017

Holidays, Pop Culture and Marketing

According to the 2013 survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS), as many as 72 per cent of Poles opposes commercialization of holidays. Despite this opposition, many people...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 29-09-2017

Effective Learning - How to Study to Get Great Results

Effective learning means working smarter not harder. Professor Czesław Nosal, psychologists from the Wrocław Faculty of Psychology at SWPS University explains how to study to get the best results and...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 11-09-2017

Becoming Yourself

“Be yourself” is a popular tenet of the Western culture. According to this viewpoint, to have a good life and garner admiration of others one must live in harmony with...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 31-08-2017

How to Overcome Post Vacation Blues

The end of vacation and the return to your daily routine and the usual responsibilities may cause uneasy emotions. Joanna Gutral, psychologist from SWPS University, explains how to deal with...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 22-08-2017

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Curiosity as Motivational Force

What motivates people? What makes them venture into uncharted territories despite doubts and apprehension? What pushes people to constantly experiment? Why do people look for new solutions when they could...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 10-08-2017

Summer Vacation, Your Pets and Animal Rights

When the weather gets warmer and temperatures rise, leaving your pet in the car, even for a few minutes, may result in tragic consequences. Unfortunately during the summer, the number...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 07-08-2017

Internet Generation and Phenomenon of Entrepreneurship

The development of technology has always been one of the key factors of entrepreneurship growth, but who are the modern day entrepreneurs and how they succeed? Magdalena Kubów, management and...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 25-07-2017

Can Lack of Sleep Actually Kill You?

In today’s fast-paced 24/7 world that never unplugs, there are so many responsibilities, tasks and online distractions that tend to creep up on the time previously spent on exercise, cooking...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 24-07-2017

Virtual Vacation

These days more and more experts suggest that to enjoy your vacation and to fully experience the beauty and richness of the world, you need to log out and unplug...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 21-07-2017

The Power of Simple Acts of Kindness

How do you define kindness? Most people would intuitively answer that being kind means doing nice things for other people. Others might add that kindness includes being kind to oneself...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 19-07-2017

Can work make you happy?

A popular belief is that high earnings are the most important aspect of job satisfaction. However, research shows that although the salary is a significant factor of professional happiness, it...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 13-07-2017

How to Like Yourself

Self-esteem is a very important aspect our wellbeing. It affects the way we look at our achievements and relationships and it impacts the way we perceive our future. High self-esteem...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 21-06-2017

Five Tips on Decision Making

Every day we make choices. Most of the time, we make decisions about insignificant things, such as: latte or cappuccino, white shirt or blue shirt. However, from time to time...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 14-06-2017

Five Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it's a lot of fun until you get the bill” – this apt and humorous simile was coined by an actor Christopher Parker. Many...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 01-06-2017

Robot Teaches Programming and Helps to Name Emotions

During my flight to Earth, my spacecraft crashed into an asteroid. Its parts scattered all over the world and now children help me find them. This is a story of...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 26-02-2017

Oscars as Element of American Mythology

Nowadays, the annual Oscar Gala has become a global celebration of cinema. It is an event full of glitz and glamour attended by artists and celebrities from around the world...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 14-12-2016

Quo Vadis Pakistan? Radical Islam and Religious Minorities

In Pakistan, torn by internal conflicts, radical Islamic groups are growing in strength. They often use the so called “blasphemy laws” as the justification for brutal attacks on their victims...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 18-11-2016

Artificial Intelligence in Recruitment and Career Planning

In today’s economy, companies that know how to attract and keep well qualified employees are the most successful. The task of finding the best talent with great potential is a...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 01-11-2016

Memories, Identity and Mortality

November is a month of remembrance in many countries. North American nations celebrate Memorial Day and Remembrance Day, which are devoted to commemorating fallen soldiers and surviving veterans. Catholics around...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 17-10-2016

Test of Salt for Seasoned Managers

Professor Mark Snyder, social psychologist from the University of Minnesota, joked that he would not like to have a boss who seasoned his meals prior to tasting the food. Why?...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 19-01-2016

Influence of Money on Human Behavior

A study conducted in a group of children, has shown that handling money may reduce helpfulness and generosity, but increase perseverance and effort applied to difficult tasks. The study was...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 07-10-2015

Designer Drug Generation

Designer drugs are the fourth most popular recreational stimulant used by young people today. The majority of users know these psychoactive substances only by their street names, such as “Cocolino”...

Read more

Popular Science Blog 23-02-2015

Weighty Data

Can abstract properties of an object influence its weight estimate? An international group of researchers, including psychologists from SWPS University in Sopot, studied what properties influence weight estimates with respect...

Read more