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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Mar 7;114(10):E2016-E2025. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1619316114. Epub 2017 Feb 15.

A higher-order theory of emotional consciousness.

Author information

Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY 10003;
Emotional Brain Institute, Nathan Kline Institute, Orangeburg, NY 10962.
Philosophy Program, LaGuardia Community College, The City University of New York, Long Island City, NY 10017.


Emotional states of consciousness, or what are typically called emotional feelings, are traditionally viewed as being innately programmed in subcortical areas of the brain, and are often treated as different from cognitive states of consciousness, such as those related to the perception of external stimuli. We argue that conscious experiences, regardless of their content, arise from one system in the brain. In this view, what differs in emotional and nonemotional states are the kinds of inputs that are processed by a general cortical network of cognition, a network essential for conscious experiences. Although subcortical circuits are not directly responsible for conscious feelings, they provide nonconscious inputs that coalesce with other kinds of neural signals in the cognitive assembly of conscious emotional experiences. In building the case for this proposal, we defend a modified version of what is known as the higher-order theory of consciousness.


amygdala; fear; introspection; self; working memory

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