...if you listen to a recorded symphony through stereo speakers that are placed exactly right, the orchestra will sound like it’s inside your head. Obviously that isn’t the case...You might find yourself asking well-meaning but preposterous scientific questions like “Where in the brain is the woodwinds section located?” ..A more reasonable approach is not to ask...How does the brain construct this experience of hearing the orchestra in your head?
Most people, including many scientists, believe that emotions are distinct, locatable entities inside us — but they’re not. Searching for emotions in this form is as misguided as looking for cerebral clarinets and oboes.
The Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory (which I direct) collectively analyzed brain-imaging studies published from 1990 to 2011 that examined fear, sadness, anger, disgust and happiness. We divided the human brain virtually into tiny cubes, like 3-D pixels, and computed the probability that studies of each emotion found an increase in activation in each cube...Overall, we found that no brain region was dedicated to any single emotion. We also found that every alleged “emotion” region of the brain increased its activity during nonemotional thoughts and perceptions as well.
Brain regions like the amygdala are certainly important to emotion, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient for it. In general, the workings of the brain are not one-to-one, whereby a given region has a distinct psychological purpose. Instead, a single brain area like the amygdala participates in many different mental events, and many different brain areas are capable of producing the same outcome. Emotions like fear and anger, my lab has found, are constructed by multipurpose brain networks that work together.
If emotions are not distinct neural entities, perhaps they have a distinct bodily pattern — heart rate, respiration, perspiration, temperature and so on? Again, the answer is no. My lab analyzed over 200 published studies, covering nearly 22,000 test subjects, and found no consistent and specific fingerprints in the body for any emotion. Instead, the body acts in diverse ways that are tied to the situation.
...emotion words like “anger,” “happiness” and “fear” each name a population of diverse biological states that vary depending on the context...Instead of asking where emotions are or what bodily patterns define them, we would do better to abandon such essentialism and ask the more revealing question, “How does the brain construct these incredible experiences?”