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Prog Brain Res. 2012;195:431-42. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53860-4.00021-0.

Evolution of human emotion: a view through fear.

Author information

1
Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA. joseph.ledoux@nyu.edu

Abstract

Basic tendencies to detect and respond to significant events are present in the simplest single cell organisms and persist throughout all invertebrates and vertebrates. Within vertebrates, the overall brain plan is highly conserved, though differences in size and complexity also exist. The forebrain differs the most between mammals and other vertebrates. The classic notion that the evolution of mammals led to radical changes such that new forebrain structures (limbic system and neocortex) were added has not held up nor has the idea that so-called limbic areas are primarily involved in emotion. Modern efforts have focused on specific emotion systems, like the fear or defense system, rather than on the search for a general purpose emotion systems. Such studies have found that fear circuits are conserved in mammals, including humans. Animal work has been especially successful in determining how the brain detects and responds to danger. Caution should be exercised when attempting to discuss other aspects of emotion, namely subjective feelings, in animals since there are no scientific ways of verifying and measuring such states except in humans.

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