Fear, rage, panic, maternal care, vigilance, seeking, play, and mating are hard-wired brain instincts.

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Part 1.
Brain Anatomy

Brain Structure and Neurons

DNA, the Brain, and Human Behavior

Human Brain Development

Brain Anatomy Diagram

Broca's Limbic Lobe, Papez's Circuit, and MacLean's Limbic System

Brain Evolution—The Triune Brain Theory

Brain Anatomy—Early Structures and Systems

Subcortical Brain Structures, Stress, Emotions, and Mental Illness

The Brain's Two Hemispheres

The Brain's Cerebral Cortex (Neocortex)

Part 2:
Neurotransmitters
and Emotional Systems

Brain Neurotransmitters—an Introduction

Brain Neurotransmitters and Illness

   Emotions are Hard-Wired in the Brain: Introduction to Ancestral Brain Systems

The SEEKING-VIGILANCE Construct

The Brain's SEEKING System

Attention, Learning, and Memory: The VIGILANCE System

Rage: an Innate Brain System

Fear: an Innate Brain system

PANIC/LOSS: an Innate Brain System

PLAY: an Innate Brain System

The MATING System, the Brain, and Gender Determination

CARE: an Innate Brain System Important to Motherhood

Part 3:
Innate Behavior, Grooming, OCD, and Tourette Syndrome

Depression, Obsessions, and Compulsions: Concepts in Ethology and Attachment Theory

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Trichotillomania, and Skin Picking

OCD and Tourette Syndrome: Causes and Symptoms

OCD, Dopamine, and the Nucleus Accumbens

OCD Treatments Including Antipsychotic Medications

Dopamine neurons in the brain.


Emotions are Hard-Wired in the Brain: Introduction to Ancestral Brain Systems

In Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (1998), Jaak Panksepp boldly and insightfully asserts that "the failure of psychology to deal effectively with the nature of the many instinctual systems of human and animal brains remains one of the great failings of the discipline. The converse could be said for neuroscience."

In Part 1 of MyBrainNotes.com, we discuss the mammalian brain in a section titled Our animal brain, and how the subcortical structures of a pig's brain look strikingly similar to the subcortical structures of a human's brain. The subcortical structures of the human brain, our ancestral brain, are pictured below (links to source). John A. Beal of Louisiana State University provides this image.

Human brain anatomical specimen - model - saggital section - cropped to highlight subcortical nuclei including limbic system structures and basal ganglia. Author: John A. Beal PhD, Dept of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, Louisiana State University.

Over time and through evolution, the neurons in our ancestral brain have extended to innervate the larger human neocortex, wherein our language abilities are generated. It is important to remember, however, that without our subcortical nuclei, which are so similar in appearance and function to the nuclei of lower mammals, we humans would have no motivation, no behavior of any sort. In Part 1 of MyBrainNotes.com, our discussion of The brain's frontal lobes includes a quotation from Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior (2005) that bears repeating. Authors Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson write: "If the frontal lobes aren't getting the right input, they don't produce the right output even though structurally they're fine. So all brain damage ends up looking like frontal lobe damage, whether the frontal lobes were injured or not." The bottom line is that all of our higher-level human ability is predicated on the proper functioning of our ancestral brain—the same brain we share with mammals including even the lowly lab rat.

Regarding our animal brain, Panksepp writes: "It is noteworthy that no neurotransmitter or neuromodulator has been discovered in humans that is qualitatively different from those found in other mammals. In fact, all mammals share remarkably similar anatomical distributions of most neurochemical systems within their brains."

Innate emotional systems neurocircuitry:

In Animals in Translation, Grandin and Johnson write: "We humans tend to think of emotions as dangerous forces that need to be strictly controlled by reason and logic. But that's not how the brain works. In the brain logic and reason are never separate from emotion. Even nonsense syllables have an emotional charge, either positive or negative. Nothing is neutral."

In Pankseep's Affective Neuroscience, he explains that there "is good biological evidence for at least seven innate emotional systems…." Panksepp explains that some of these "universally recognized emotions correspond to the 'infantile' feelings that young children exhibit." These emotional systems are genetically encoded into the subcortical neurocircuitry of the mammalian brain. Stimulating different subcortical areas via electrodes produces emotional reactions in animals. In contrast, "We cannot precipitate emotional feelings by artificially activating the neocortex either electrically or neurochemically," writes Panksepp. He points out, however, that "emotionality is modified by cortical injury." He also emphasizes: "Emotive circuits have reciprocal interactions with the brain mechanisms that elaborate higher decision-making processes and consciousness."

A cat raised with a rat - an example of how experience can modify innate brain instincts. Panksepp points out that each major emotional system "has intrinsic response patterning mechanisms" in place. Real world experience can, however, effect the natural expression of primal emotional systems. For example, Panksepp writes: "Most cats that have been reared only with other cats will hunt and kill mice and rats, but those that have been reared with rats from the time of birth show no such inclination."

Mammalian emotions are difficult to consistently pin down in words. Nonetheless, scientists have been able to elicit discrete responses from seven different emotional systems within the paleomammalian brain. Panksepp has created great short names for these seven systems and uses all capital letters as designations. Here, I have retained Panksepp's style since it works so well. In some cases, however, I have made edits to his original terminology to add clarity given that we discuss the systems here only in brief. I culled and abbreviated the description for each system from Panksepp's Affective Neuroscience. Any errors are my own.

    SEEKING (anticipation, desire)

    RAGE (frustration, body surface irritation, restraint, indignation)

    FEAR (pain, threat, foreboding)

    PANIC/LOSS (separation distress, social loss, grief, loneliness)

    PLAY (rough-and tumble carefree play, joy)

    MATING (copulation—who and when)

    CARE (maternal nurturance)

When Panksepp refers to emotional systems, he means to be very specific. He is speaking of neurocircuitry that can be defined precisely in terms of 1) location within brain structures, and 2) function evoked in a "coherent pattern" by "localized electrical or chemical stimulation." Panksepp writes: "We can turn on rage, fear, separation distress, and generalized seeking patterns of behavior." He explains that "once an electrode is in the correct neuroanatomical location, essentially identical emotional tendencies can be evoked in all mammals, including humans."

A fine black dog. Although Panksepp does not detail the specifics of animal experiments in his book, the fact remains that scientists implant electrodes into the brains of animals, including animals of whom many of us, including myself, could become very fond and protective.

To delineate circuitry, electricity is channeled into implanted electrodes and an evoked response is observed. Chemicals can also be injected into brain circuits to evoke a response. Since we all benefit from the research these experiments produce, I think we should all pull out our pocketbooks and open our homes to provide compassionate retirements for these animals whenever possible. I cannot change the hierarchy. Obviously, humans rule and scientific research is important. And since I eat meat, how can I criticize the scientists who try to solve important problems using animals in research, especially when ethical guidelines are in place and observed?

Adrian R. Morrison, in An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian's Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate (2009), explains how animal welfare laws in the United States were "inspired by an influential book published [1959] by two British scientists, William Russell and Rex Burch. They proposed that in the interests of laboratory animal welfare, scientists should adhere to the rule of the 3 R's: reduction (in numbers used), refinement (of experimental techniques to eliminate or reduce pain), and replacement (with alternative approaches when available)." Morrison believes that the ultimate safeguard for animals is not federal regulation but researchers who have values. He writes: "Only the scientists responsible for the research knows whether every other person working in the laboratory truly has the proper training and is caring for the animals in a humane and safe manner. A laboratory veterinarian of my acquaintance, Ronald Banks, has proposed that such thinking falls into the category of a fourth 'R' that he would add to the 3 R's of Russell and Burch: responsibility."

There are people who abuse animals in all walks of life—from the backyard to the laboratory. I can only hope that everyone, when they look into the eyes of any kind of mammal, will see a living relative fully capable of experiencing pain and deserving of comfort.

Jaak Panksepp, an acknowledgement:

Jaak Panksepp. I would like to acknowledge here the enormous contribution Jaak Panksepp has made with his book, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (Series in Affective Science), to my understanding of innate, instinctual behavior and to MyBrainNotes.com. Click on his photograph to learn more about him or click on the link above to buy his book from Amazon.com.

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