Wired to get wound up! Why emotions are so hard to control

Wednesday, 21 February 2007 - 6:00pm
Museum of London





Overview

Professor Joseph E LeDoux, New York University, Professor Keith Kendrick, Head of Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge and former Gresham Professor of Physic and Professor Raj Persaud, Visiting Gresham Professor of Psychiatry.






Transcript of the lecture

 

21 February 2007

 

WIRED TO GET WOUND UP!

WHY EMOTIONS ARE SO HARD TO CONTROL

 

Professor Joseph E LeDoux
Professor Keith Kendrick
Professor Raj Persaud

 

Welcome to this joint event between Gresham College, London and New York University, New York.  My name is Sutherland.  I am the Provost of Gresham College, and delighted to welcome you and to welcome especially our guest, Professor LeDoux from New York University, who has come to share in a joint symposium with us. 

Gresham College is quite a small operation, and New York University is a very large operation, and a very distinguished university.  In the word 'distinguished' we have one of the links.  New York University has a great record, increasingly over the last 20 years, of having international links, and it has a base here in London, New York University in London.  When I became Provost of Gresham and discovered that a longstanding friend and colleague, David Ruben, was Director of New York University in London, we worked out that there were certain things we had in common.  One was a commitment to excellence, work of the highest quality; the second was the fact that of course the City of London, which Gresham College serves - is a great international financial centre.  We really are tempted to say the great international financial centre, but we accept that New York has a considerable claim as well!  New York University is in Greenwich Village, very proximate to the great financial centre that is there in New York. 

We are both committed - and New York University in its history has been long committed - to broadening the appeal of higher education.  In its early days, it played mother, nurse, progenitor to many of the great figures in the US now, who came as immigrants and found in New York University what I think Sir Thomas Gresham hoped 400 years ago many would find in Gresham College: that is a place where learning was prized, learning was available to those who live and work in the local community.  Sir Thomas Gresham's Will has ensured that that has continued for over 400 years, and we found that out of these synergies, things grew and we could do things together.  I'm very grateful to our colleagues in New York University that this has been possible over a successive number of years now. 

We do not always focus on the same topics.  This evening, the title is, 'Wired to get wound up - why emotions are so hard to control'.  We have three speakers: Professor Joseph LeDoux from New York University, with two of our home team from Gresham who have done a lot of work with us in the College, Raj Persaud and Keith Kendrick, who are very well known to many of you.  They are going to provide a symposium for the next hour and a half, and it is my job to hand over to Professor LeDoux to find out why and how we get wired to get wound up.

 

Professor Joseph E LeDoux, New York University

It is a great pleasure to be a representative of NYU here at the NYU London and Gresham event, and to share the stage with my colleagues.  We are going to be talking about fear and anxiety, and I want to start with the question of why it is hard for the brain to be happy.  This is something that we can all appreciate, but let's talk about exactly what might be in the way to happiness. 

The brain evolved to survive in hostile environments with limited resources, not so much to be happy.  Happiness is a recent invention, a human invention in fact, that is not necessarily biologically specified as a function of the brain.  If you look at the history of happiness, and there are some very interesting books on this recently, the idea of happiness that we have today is not at all what the ancient Greeks, for example, thought about when they talked about happiness as something you evaluate at the end of your life, not something you evaluate on a moment to moment basis as you go through life. 

One of the main impediments is really the fact that we have these negative emotions - fear, anxiety, depression, and so on - that get in the way of any kind of sense of wellbeing that we might have, regardless of what we call it.  Control of negative emotions will not make you happy, but it would improve the quality of life, and I think quality of life is the thing we need to be searching for, more so than the more ephemeral concept of happiness. 

My main goals tonight are to talk about how brain research can lead to a better understanding and control over negative emotions, and especially fear and anxiety.

These are a natural response to threats.  We all are exposed to things that threaten us from time to time during the course of the day.  Fear, we can define as a quality or a process in the brain that allows us to detect and respond to danger and to anticipate dangers that are about to happen; whereas anxiety occurs when we anticipate a danger that may or may not occur in the future.  So it has to do with whether something is there and about to happen or something that we are just worried about in the future.  These interfere with life even in people who are not clinically anxious, but having an anxiety disorder is really a very serious problem.  There are about 40 million Americans who suffer from them, and these disorders co-occur and make worse almost every other kind of mental condition or even physical condition, such as cancer and heart disease.  The economic cost in the United States alone is more than $50 billion a year when you deal with all of the costs that go into treating and preventing and just dealing with anxiety.

The anxiety disorders are phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.  Each of these is considered in the category of anxiety, but one of the defining features across all of these categories is the importance of fear.  Fear is something that comes up and is a defining feature of an anxiety disorder, and it is manifest in various ways in the different disorders.

But  as I said, you do not have to be clinically anxious to suffer the ill effects of anxiety.  People can be fearful or anxious, and emotions like these can figure into decisions about immigration, national security, globalisation, and so these are important things that we have to think about.  I was at a conference a couple of years ago with Al Gore on the political uses and abuses of fear, and this is obviously an important topic these days.  So if we could better understand and control our fear and anxiety, we might have the potential not only for improving personal wellbeing but also improving the wellbeing of our societies.

So how do we fix anxiety?  How do we improve our level of anxiety?  The answer comes from the brain.  There are different things with which the brain can help us.  Of course, we can develop better drugs with fewer side effects.  Most of the drugs we have today that treat problems with anxiety and depression are on the same format of drugs that were available in the 1970s.  They are slightly better in terms of having fewer side effects, but the basic mechanism under which these drugs act really has not changed, so we need new ways of thinking about drugs that might treat these disorders.  But also, we might be able to understand through the brain better ways for using psychotherapeutic techniques, better understanding of which therapy is best under which conditions, and for which individuals.  It is important that we develop ways of detecting and preventing, and research on the brain can help us by figuring out what are predisposing factors, what are predictive factors, that might predict who is going to develop an anxiety disorder and how we might be able to treat them in advance perhaps.

So how do we actually go into the brain and study this?  Almost all of my research involves rats, and I will tell you why we do that in a minute, but the way we study this is the rat is in a small chamber, and he hears a sound, and if the sound occurs with nothing else happening, he will continue to move around in his cage and eventually just ignore the sound, but if the sound is paired with an electric shock - it is a very mild shock and it only has to appear a single time - then the animal will develop a series of fear responses in the very same way than what happens in a human.  So the muscles will tense, and that is represented in the freezing response; blood pressure and heart rate and perspiration go up, just as in a human who is experiencing anxiety; and stress hormones are released that perpetuate this response.  All of these things occur in the rat to a tone that has been paired with a shock, but they also occur to a human if a human is given a tone that is paired with a shock, or if a human is observing a person with a very angry face charging at them.  This kind of learning is very natural, it occurs throughout the animal kingdom.  It is the basic mechanism by which all animals learn to detect danger and to respond to danger, and so it is a fundamental mechanism.  Even though rats and people are afraid of different things, our brains and bodies respond in essentially the same way, and this is why we can study these mechanisms in rats, where we can get into the details of how the brain is organised.

When we study fear and anxiety, we are dealing basically with the so-called fight/flight response, which I am sure you have all heard about.  In the face of a threatening event, the brain is activated, the autonomic nervous system is activated, so that is causing your blood pressure and heart rate to go up, muscles are tensing, hormones are being released - all of this is well understood in terms of the body physiology underlying fear and anxiety.  But what we do not understand, and what we have not understood, is how the stimulus gets into the brain and controls this machinery, and that has been the goal of my research through these studies of rats.

As I said, the rat is conditioned in these chambers, when he is conditioned; freezing responses are expressed in the presence of the tone, and so the main response that we are going to be looking at in this research is the freezing response because it is a convenient way of measuring fear in the rat in a way that is similar to what happens in the human brain.

Across many, many studies in many different kinds of animals, including people, and across many kinds of research paradigms, the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is a Greek word for almond, because of the almond-shaped nature of this structure, the amygdala is the answer to the way this kind of learning takes place and the way this kind of responding is expressed in the presence of a fear-arousing stimulus.

In a way, the amygdala is a misnomer, because there are at least a dozen different parts of the amygdala and not all of them are involved in fear and anxiety.  The key regions that are important are the lateral amygdala, which receives the sensory information, and then it communicates with the central amygdala, which then controls the responses.  So it is a very simple input/output kind of network, and it is within these input/output connections that plasticity occurs, that learning occurs in those neurons that allows the stimulus to elicit a fear response when it did not do it before the learning process.

A key hypothesis that we have been pursuing is that the lateral amygdala, which is the gateway into the system, is the primary source of plasticity that underlies this form of learning.  I am not going to go through all the details here but, basically, one of the important things is that the part of the brain involved in learning has to be a place where the tone and the shock are integrated by single cells, that each cell that receives a tone input also receives a shock input, so that that allows the learning to take place.  Neural activity is recorded from the amygdala neurons after the learning has taken place, and we can get a representation of the amount of the neural activity that is due to the learning process; in other words, that did not exist before the learning occurred.  We are able to see that if the lateral amygdala is damaged, then blood pressure and freezing responses to the tone are eliminated, or greatly reduced.

The lateral amygdala does not do this alone.  It sits in a more complicated set of circuitry that receives information about the tone - that is called the condition stimulus pathway - and the shock ? that is the unconditioned stimulus pathway.  The lateral amygdala receives the integrated signals from both of these pathways and it is able to put it all together to then control circuits within the amygdala that then control the expression and these responses.  So the basic idea is that the cells in the lateral amygdala put it all together.

It is sometimes necessary to reduce the preparation substantially in order to get into the nitty-gritty of how all of this learning takes place, so to do that, we go from the whole amygdala in the living brain into a brain slice.  The brain is removed and sliced and these thin slices are kept alive in a dish containing nutrient solutions and they will stay alive for a  number of hours.  When we do that, we can then stimulate pathways into the lateral amygdala and trick the cells into thinking that they are still in the living, behaving animal receiving tones and shocks.  When we do this, the cells undergo learning just as they do when the animal is awake and behaving, and by being able to study the cells in the dish like this, we are able to get into the underlying molecular basis of the way this learning takes place.

Without going into a lot of detail, there are a number of molecules that have been implicated in this process.  Pre-synaptic changes: the main thing there is that the neural transmitter, glutamate, is released from the pre-synaptic neuron, that is the neuron carrying the tone into the amygdala, so when the tone gets to the end of that axon there, it releases the chemical glutamate that binds to receptors on the pro-synaptic cell.  That leads to the activation of a variety of molecules within the cell, but only if the shock occurs on that cell at the same time.  When the shock occurs, while the tone is causing glutamate to be released on to that neuron, a whole cascade of intercellular processing begins with calcium, then goes into various pathways that converge, and that moves into the nucleus of the cell, activates gene transcription factors, these lead to the synthesis of RNA and protein, and those proteins then go back to that synapse and basically glue it together.  So the main take-home point here is that when the tone and the shock activate the neuron at the same time, the net result is the creation of proteins that glue that connection together, and that is the basis of learning, whether it is in the amygdala, the hippocampus, or in any other part of the brain - that is basically the way learning takes place.

All of this applies to the human brain, as demonstrated by the fact that if we study patients who have amygdala damage because of epilepsy - often the epilepsy can be so severe that part of the brain has to be taken out - and the amygdala is often the side of epilepsy in the human brain, so one amygdala is taken out.  We have one patient who also had epileptic scar tissue in the other amygdala, so she in effect was a bilateral amygdala patient, and this patient has a severe deficit in fear conditioning.  Other patients like this have been reported, for example, by Tony DeFazio, and that patient also has a severe deficit in fear conditioning.  This kind of learning is impaired in the human brain just as it is in the rat brain.  If you look at the human brain during fear conditioning, using brain scanning techniques, like functional magnetic resonance imaging, you can see activity in the amygdala of the human brain just as you see in the rat brain.  This work has been done by my colleagues in the States, and also by Ray Doland and his colleagues here in London at the Welcome Institute at Queen's Square, part of UCL, and by a number of other colleagues around the country, both in the United States and in America.  These studies confirm the importance of the amygdala for the human brain.

Now, in the Conte Center for the study of the neural systems of fear and anxiety - this is a centre that spans throughout New York City, it involves five different institutions within New York City, including Rockefeller, Cornell Medical Centre, Mount Sinai Medical School, and so forth, and NYU.  Our goal there is to try to understand fear disorders through what is called translational brain research, where we take the information that we obtain from rats and then apply it to the understanding of disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorder in the human brain, to try and use that information to make predictions so we can then study the patients with these disorders and try to understand how we might alter their brain activations that are being expressed during anxiety disorders.

The amygdala does not work alone in these kinds of problems.  Two important regions that are involved in the regulation of fear (and we call these partners in fear) are the hippocampus and the medial prefrontal cortex. 

The hippocampus is very important in the contextualisation of fear.  If you see a snake in the zoo, you are much less likely to be afraid of it than if you see one in the path in the woods while you are walking along.  The hippocampus sets that context.

Regulation, the prefrontal cortex is very important in the regulation of the amount of fear you express.  The amygdala is the accelerator for fear, and the prefrontal cortex is the brakes.

Let us look at what role these might have.  For example, stress is known to impair the hippocampus, so if you have an impaired hippocampus, you might have fear that is inappropriate to the situation that you are in.  For example, a PTSD patient who has an anxiety attack to the sound of a car backfiring as if that patient were back in Vietnam or in Iraq on the basis of an inappropriate stimulus, or an appropriate stimulus in inappropriate context. 

The medial prefrontal cortex is also damaged by stress, and this means that your fear is now that you are less capable of controlling or regulating your fear responses.  At the same time, stress amplifies or potentiates the function of the amygdala.

So you have all of the ingredients you need to have a problem with fear and anxiety here, which is an inability to regulate stress, an inability to contextualise fear, and an exaggerated fear response in and of itself.

If you look at the imaging from patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, you see the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder and normal controls; there is a heightened activity in the amygdala of people with PTSD.  One of the goals in the therapeutic process that we are engaged in, by testing patients with both drugs and psychotherapy, is to see if we can reduce this exaggerated activity down back to more baseline levels, either through one form of therapy or through a combination.  The basic idea is to determine which drugs might reduce that enhanced amygdala activity and its poor ability to be regulated by these different areas.

One of the predictions is that the amygdala will be involved in all of these anxiety disorders, but different anxiety disorders might involve the partners in fear in different ways.  For example, in PTSD, I said you may have impaired function to regulate and contextualise, whereas in panic disorder, you might have hyper-contextualisation, where panic disorder patients are afraid to go outside because of the fear of having a panic attack.  So in them, the hippocampus is probably working overtime rather than being impaired.

I just want to return back to this topic of happiness.  In a nice book by Darrin McMahon on the History of Happiness, he goes through the entire history and basically ends up concluding that happiness became something that people viewed as a natural right, the way we think of it today, some time in the Enlightenment rather than throughout history.

So I would like to just make a proposal at the end here.  One is that happiness is a human construction rather than an actual condition wired into the brain.  The brain evolved to stay alive and maintain wellbeing, not to be consciously happy.  Wellbeing is maintained by systems that mostly operate unconsciously.  All of this amygdala stuff that we have been looking at in these control mechanisms basically function in an unconscious way in the brain.  We become conscious of the brain's activities, but often after the emotion has been aroused rather than in the initiation of the emotion.  Happiness as a goal should not be equated with momentary pleasure or wellbeing. 

There are very interesting studies of patients, for example heroin addicts pressing a button to either receive saline or heroin.  They do not know at any one time what they are getting, but they are pressing the button and they are supposed to say, 'Now I feel the heroin.'  So they are pressing the button, and when they say, 'Now I feel the heroin,' it turns out that their button pressing had gone up long before they consciously are able to tell you that they are experiencing the heroin.  So the brain is much more sensitive unconsciously to incentives and environmental conditions and other kinds of information processing than it is at the conscious level. 

Consciousness often becomes involved after the fact.  That is not to say that consciousness is unimportant: once it is brought on-line, it can play an important role in regulation of emotions and so forth, but the initiation of emotional reactions often takes place at this unconscious level.

A good life might be thought of as necessarily punctuated and qualified, maybe even defined, by inevitable negative emotions.  We cannot get rid of all negative emotions.  In fact, this would not be a good idea, because if you only had good things happen to you, you would not know what good was, so you need some negative to balance the positive.  Everything is a contrast, and you need that contrast in order to have a good life.

We can think of wellbeing as something that accumulates in memory and allows the current states that we have to affect future states.  A life with more of these accumulated senses of wellbeing is likely to be viewed at the end, the way the Greeks did, as a happy one, but I think one of the problems with the entire concept of happiness is the fact that not everybody can be happy in the way that we are often told, that we can just go out and be happy.  There is something that some philosophers are calling the tyranny of happiness and the tyranny of the positive, where people are feeling worse because they cannot feel this happiness that they are told is just waiting for them to grab hold of.

We have learned a lot about the brain, but we still have a lot further to go.  I am not saying happiness does not exist; I am just saying that we need to really think about what it is when we talk about happiness, or have a debate about it.

I would like to close by thanking all the people that made the research I talked about possible, and thanks to NYU and Gresham for having us. 

 

Audience Question

You talk about fear and anxiety, and if we get to grips with them, we might achieve a better society, but have you got anything to say about the emotion of disgust? 

 

Joseph LeDoux

I used fear and anxiety as examples of negative emotions because that is what I work on, but certainly disgust is another negative emotion that we need to face.  I think what you are getting at is the prejudice that comes from living in multicultural societies and obviously this is a very big problem.  I think, fundamentally what you are talking about is also the fear that the other culture is instilling in the other.  Whether you are on top or at the bottom, there can be fear in both directions, so I think fear is a very fundamental emotion that really dictates so much of human behaviour.  Some have talked about fear as the primary human motive, that we make money because we are in fear of not making money or being poor and so forth.  I think that is probably going too far.  I would not under-sell fear in any situation, because it afects many, many aspects of what we do.  For example, we are fearful of losing loved ones.  You can think of love in the positive way or the negative way.  We do not like to think of it in a negative way - the reason you love this person is because you are afraid of what happens if you do not have them.  Certainly underlying many aspects of human behaviour, there is a fear component.  William James once said that man is the least fearful animal because of the society we have created, but I think he was wrong; that we are the most fearful because of the society we have created.

 

Audience Question

How do you assess whether a drug or psychotherapy is the most appropriate way to deal with inappropriate anxiety responses?  Is it simply a matter of resources and time available or are there more subtle ways of deciding than that?

 

Joseph LeDoux

What we are doing in these studies is simply seeing if that enhanced brain activity can be brought back and normalised.  I cannot tell you that that is going to translate directly into a lower level of fear and anxiety - that is the prediction and that is something we have to determine through the research.  That would be a biological marker of an improved therapeutic process, but that is not necessarily the only goal.  Obviously, anything that works is good.  You do not need the brain to tell you if something is working, but if we can get a biological marker, it gives us some kind of a leg-up for going further into the next step, which is to perhaps develop a better kind of drug, one that would have fewer side effects.  I am not suggesting that everyone should then be on a drug, the way we have now the so-called multi-purpose heart pill, where you take a combination of pills and you will live for ever.  You could forecast the time when we were taking a multi-purpose mental health pill, so that we are all happy, but I am not sure that is going to be a good idea.

 

Audience Question

I was fascinating by a few words I noticed on the one slide you did not talk about.

 

Joseph LeDoux

It is an interesting point.  It is interesting that the connectivity of the amygdala with the prefrontal cortex, or with the cortex in general, is much greater than the connectivity of the cortex to the amygdala.  So one way you might speculate about what that means is that it is much easier for our emotions to control our thoughts than it is for our thoughts to control our emotions.  That is something we all know from personal experience, but these connectivities may account for that.  There is an interesting asymmetry here, which is that even though thoughts are not very effective in controlling the amygdala, they are very effective at turning the amygdala on.  To me, that is a mystery that we do not have an understanding of at this point, and an interesting one to pursue.

 

Professor Keith Kendrick, Fellow of Gresham College and former Gresham Professor of Physic, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge

I get the 'short straw' on this occasion in that I get to talk about the positive emotions, which can be all too transient, as we all know.  We have to do certain things that make us feel good, but if we do not do them, we actually feel bad, and therein lies the sort of problems that we often have with emotions; that you have to do something, you cannot just ignore them.

What are positive emotions for?  I am not just talking about happiness.  In fact, from it.  We are talking really about the sort of feelings you could experience: joy, exuberance, these kinds of things.  What they are really helping us to do is evaluate the achieving of successful outcomes.  They are extraordinarily useful in guiding our behaviour.  They of course promote survival-dependent, repetitive behaviours that we all know about: we have to get energy from food; and we have to take in liquids in terms of drinking; we need to reproduce in terms of finding a mate and having sex; and positive emotions reinforce all of these survival- dependent repetitive behaviours.  In social species - this is a simple way of putting it - they also promote social glue.  Positive emotions - smiling, laughter - really do, as it were, bind together individuals in a social context, almost to the point that once somebody shows them, everybody else has to show them as well.  They are almost addictive.  Clearly, it is very important for societies to act together in order to survive as well, so positive emotions promote social interactions and cohesion.

As with negative emotions, they also direct and promote attention and learning.  Things that make you feel good, you attend to, and what makes you feel good, you tend to remember for a very long time, possibly for the whole of your life, especially things early on in your life.

We must not forget as well that we are wired, like all species, to like novelty, and this is, in a sense, a positive emotion.  We are almost motivated to seek novelty, and that promotes exploration, which allows us to interact with our environment and to survive within it.  Also, positive emotions will help control stress, which ultimately of course will be health-promoting.

A lot of argument is made about the relation of emotion and intelligence, and there are very different schools of thought on this.  For about twenty years, the cognitive psychology movement completely divorced emotion from intelligence, and cognition and emotion were treated relatively independently.  That, thankfully, has changed, because I think most neuroscientists and psychologists will now accept that emotion and intelligence are inextricably linked, although they are not exactly the same thing.  Certainly, computer scientists will turn round and say, 'We are sure we don't have to design intelligent machines with emotion in order to do things as clever as humans' 

There is an extensive overlap within the brain between cognitive and emotion systems, as you would expect.  They are helping each other.  We all know how useful it can be when you really have not got enough information and you have got to make a decision about something.  You get a hunch or gut feeling that that is the way you should do it.  You could be wrong, but it helps decision making.  Emotions help make decisions for us and therefore give us short-cuts in trying to get things solved.

What makes us feel good or bad?  We have known about this for some time.  A psychologist called James Aulds in the 1950s was the first to discover that there are very ancient parts of the brain which, if stimulated, seem to be able to generate pleasurable feelings.  Initially, he showed this in rats.  If you put a stimulating electrode in one of these regions deep in the brain of a rat, it will press a lever to deliver electrical stimulation to that part of the brain, and will continue to do it something like 6,000 times an hour without association.  Now, you can argue as to what the animal might be feeling, but a neurosurgeon called Heath actually put electrodes in human patients as well, for treating them I hasten to add, and in the same regions - reward centres, as they are known - and when they stimulated themselves, these the patients said they experienced something akin to sexual orgasm.  They laughed.  They felt mirth.  So it definitely promotes feelings, at least in humans, in a very positive form.

We know quite a lot about these circuits in the brain.  We have already had a mention of the prefrontal cortex, which is very important for controlling all kinds of emotions, not just the negative ones.  It is an impulse control centre.  It is also an extraordinarily important cognitive control centre in the brain.  Emotions and cognition are all inter-mixed in this particular region.  That interacts with these deep brain centres, which are primarily the transmitter dopamine, and it is stimulating areas that seems to cause individuals, whatever species you are dealing with, to stimulate themselves repetitively and, at least in humans, we experience extreme pleasure when that happens.

Pretty much whatever you look at that we know causes us pleasure,  you get activation of these brain reward centres, and we can see this in MRI scans.  Sex, music, both very pleasurable.  It is amazing how strong the activation is within these pleasure centres.  But not everything gets activated by all of these pleasurable experiences.  There do seem to be some distinctions as to what areas are activated by what sorts of things.  Expectation and delivery of pleasure seem to have a slightly different regulation, and this is shown in MRI studies, for example when looking at people who are gambling.  They have a very strong expectation that they are going to get a monetary reward - they really know they are on to a sure thing, they are going to get money.  When they anticipate they are going to get it, that activates the nucleus but it does not activate the prefrontal cortex, but when they actually get it, the frontal cortex is activated but not the nucleus.  So it seems that the pleasure system is slightly different in regulating positive emotions related to expectations as opposed to the actual acquisition of reward itself.

There are also obviously genetic aspects to whether or not these pleasure systems are activated, and obviously personality has a very strong genetic component.  Recent studies have shown that the extraversion, for example, neuroticism dimension, can predict the level of activation in the frontal cortex.  In general, people with a more extravert type personality tend to have a greater humour appreciation - they really respond to jokes, and they have a much stronger positive correlation with activation in the prefrontal cortex during humour than individuals who score high on the neuroticism scale, more introverted individuals, who seem to have less of an activation in this region.

If you look at a meta analysis of a whole load of different emotions and parts of the brain that are activated in the human brain, you can see happiness - it is lots of areas in the cortex and also below the cortex in reward areas and other regions of the brain.  Happiness is particularly strongly associated with the left frontal cortex as opposed to the right, and this has led to a supposition that somehow or other, at least in humans, the left brain hemisphere is more important for controlling happiness, and the right brain hemisphere for more negative feelings.  I think this is a gross oversimplification, but it is interesting that often stimuli that trigger pleasurable feelings and happiness seem to activate more the left side of the brain than the right.  But the important take-home message from this is that you can see that all of these different emotions, negative and positive, are completely mixed up in terms of their representation.  There is a massive overlap between them.

Indeed, recently, it has been shown. An MRI study in 2001 seems to show that.  They apply a warm stimulus to the finger, which gradually gets hotter and hotter and hotter.  It starts off being pleasant and then it gets painful.  They look at the brain activation patterns for when it is pleasurable and when it is painful and then they plot the overlap, and there is an enormous overlap between the parts of the brain that are activated when it is a pleasurable stimulus as well as when it is a painful one.

Again, negative emotions are very much related to positive ones, and we also need to have emotions that reward us for, as it were, avoiding bad things in life.  Another recent study shows that it is not just expectation of good things and achieving good things that activates brain reward centres; also managing to get yourself out of a tight scrape, avoiding a negative outcome, also activates the frontal cortex.

What about the chemistry?  This is the area where clearly we might be able to have some therapeutic interventions.  I have already mentioned dopamine, which is an extremely important transmitter for brain reward.  Ones that you might not have heard of and I am going to focus on a little bit more are two peptides, oxytocin and vasopressin, that are extremely important for the control of social and emotional bonds, and also for regulating anxiety.  The other one that I am sure you all know about, is endorphins, the brain opiates.

The main problem is that anything that you use to manipulate the dopamine system or the endorphin system is highly addictive.  It causes a lot of pleasure, but it also affects the circuitry or the receptors for these particular transmitters so that you need more and more and more stimulation in order to get the same level of pleasure, which is the basis of addiction.  You get amphetamines and cocaine affecting dopamine, for example, and morphine and heroin affecting the endorphin system.

I am going to concentrate on these two because they are not part of the addictive cycle, and they primarily exert their actions by manipulating or regulating dopaminergic and opiate function.  They are highly involved with the stress response as well, and it might surprise you to know that one of the best ways of getting someone to fall in love with you is to share stressful events with them.  One study has used rollercoaster ride as a way of forming or stimulating bonds between people.  Stress and bonding are inextricably related, it appears.

A lot of what we know about these two peptides, which are becoming of increasing interest to neuroscientists and the medical profession alike, comes from work on a very strange species of voles.  These come in two different sub-species: pine and prairie voles, they are highly social and monogamous and the males actually show parental care; or, very closely related ones, the mountain and meadow voles - and there are a number of varieties of sub-species of these voles - which are completely different, they are asocial, promiscuous, and the males do not show paternal care.  What has been found in these species is that the oxytocin system and also the vasopressin system is slightly differently organised in social species, so that the receptor which responds to oxytocin is very strongly localised in the dopaminergic brain reward centres in the social species, but it is not in the asocial species.  And so when oxytocin is being released, and the same is true for vasopressin, it is actually stimulating feelings of pleasure in these species, which is presumably what is promoting the formation of the emotional or social bonds.  The same is true we have shown, for example, with sheep with maternal behaviour for mothers who are bonding with their offspring.

A lot of work has been done by a group in Emery University in the US looking at what it is about the receptors for these peptides that change the distribution into the brain reward centres, and they found that there is a particular extended or long form of the vasopressin gene that is present in the social, emotional-bonding type species which drives expression into the brain reward centres, and if you transfect this particular version of the gene from a social species into an asocial one, you convert it into a monogamous, emotional bonding species - it is as simple as that.  What is not surprising is that immediately that is leapt upon as a new way of dealing with love rats of the human variety, that we can actually make everybody form strong emotional bonds with each other.

When you look at someone that you are in love with, either from a romantic point of view or mothers looking at their infants, it is interesting that recent MRI studies in humans show extensive activation of these sub-cortical regions of the brain that express oxytocin and vasopressin receptors in humans.  This has led now to quite a lot of studies looking at the use of infusions of oxytocin and vasopressin to control some aspects of emotions. 

You cannot just give someone an injection with oxytocin, because once it is in the bloodstream, it does not cross the blood/brain barrier, but one way you can get substances directly into the brain is intranasal.  There is a weak blood/brain barrier between the nose and the brain, so if you shoot things up your nose, they are much more likely to get into the brain, and that is why you end up with this intranasal oxytocin.  Coming back to what Joseph LeDoux was talking about, intranasal oxytocin will reduce activation of the amygdala in response to fearful stimuli, either angry or threatening faces, or negative emotion scenes.

Another study that has come out recently has shown that intranasal oxytocin promotes social trust, at least in a financial investment circumstance.  So what these people are doing is being sold an insurance policy by somebody, and when it gets to the highest level of money involvement, then the oxytocin infusions seem to make you trust the guy who is selling you the policy.  Extremely dangerous you might say!  Not surprisingly, it is now being marketed this way by an outfit, Truth Labs: 'liquid trust in a bottle,' but they have taken it further.  They reckon this is a way of making women love you because they trust you and, more recently, it has been sold as the hormone of love nasal spray reduces stress in marital spats.  It is certainly being advertised on the net as something that will make you a success in business.  The only little problem is that they are actually saying you should spray it on yourself, as if oxytocin had some kind of smell.  It does not, I can assure you.  I have handled the stuff for years.  It smells of nothing.  It has to go up your nose and into your brain to have any effect at all.

So far as vasopressin is concerned, far less has been done on that, but a recent study has shown it can affect the way you react to emotional stimuli from the face of a member of the same sex as yourself.  It appears that in men it actually exacerbates the activity of one of the facial muscles that is involved with threatening faces, whereas in women, it does exactly the opposite - it makes you even less likely to show a threatening type face.  This goes along with the idea that vasopressin does promote positive social responses in males, but it can also stimulate aggression, and it is probable that if they actually look at what happens when men look at female faces, you will get the opposite effect, so it will be aggression towards another male but actually the opposite towards a female, but they did not do that in the study.

Interestingly, women with vasopressin, the muscle, which is more involved with smiling and happy-type faces, showed an exaggeration of activity when they took vasopressin, so it clearly has pro-social effects in women.  In men, it is having aggressive effects, at least with other men, but it may have the opposite effect with women - we do not know at this stage.

These peptides seem to be really interesting in modulating anxiety and promoting social emotions.  We know of course that bonds are very important in life, and we also know that they can have quite a strong impact on your likes and dislikes for the rest of your life.  One area - there are many areas I could choose, but this is the most interesting one, just to illustrate very quickly - is what turns you on when you look at a member of the opposite sex.  We carried out a study on sheep and goats some time ago, trying to establish whether the bond that they have with their mother influences what they find attractive in a member of the opposite sex when we grow up.  The way we did this was simply to rear, cross-foster them across species, so that goats were rearing sheep and vice versa.  The idea would be that if mother is really that important, that the genetics should go out the window and that they should prefer members of their foster mother species in terms of socialising and having sex with them, and that is exactly what happened.  It is much stronger in males than in females.

This led to a whole load of studies being conducted in humans, which basically show exactly the same thing.  It is not a massively strong effect, before you all get worried, but you do tend to find individuals who have the same hair colour and eye colour as your opposite sex parents attractive in a partner.  In fact, the odours of your parents seem to be attractive as well, if they are similar in a partner.  The most recent study, which fits really with genetic confounds, looks at stepfathers and the influence on their daughters, and the biggest relationship between the appearance of the partner was with the appearance of the stepfather as opposed to the appearance of the female herself or her mother.  This effect was stronger if there was a stronger emotional bond between the stepfather and the daughter.  So there does seem to be something in this, and what we think is that oxytocin and vasopressin, when they are released in the context of these bonds, are actually progressively rewiring the brain so that individuals that fit the template, look like the parents, are more likely to activate the dopaminergic and opiate brain reward systems.

We still do not really know that much about how oxytocin and vasopressin are acting to rewire the brain, but they certainly do.  If animals do not have the expression of these genes, they find it very hard to recognise socially another individual, and they also have problems with their anxiety - they become anxious.  What we think is that these substances are released very slowly and in large areas of the brain and the kind of systems that Joe LeDoux showed for plasticity changes that are going on in your circuits that can permanently change them, as a result of learning, and that what they are doing is linking this learning of particular sensory stimuli more directly into the brain reward systems.

Some conclusions.  Positive emotions help you direct, evaluate and also decide.  A big 'Catch 22' which I haven't mentioned too much about, is if you do not find ways to evoke them, you feel bad.  If you do not activate any of these systems, they promote bad feelings.  You have to keep on activating them in order to feel good. 

Avoiding bad outcomes, though, can also stimulate them.  We know a lot about positive emotion chemistry but, unfortunately, so do those who sell recreational drugs, and we need to try and find ways of promoting these systems which are not addictive.  Those exploiting trust and happiness sprays of course are also getting in on the act. 

Emotional bonds are extremely formative, because of the release of bonding hormones, and they will rewire your brain.  Unfortunately, you cannot choose your parents, which is going to be a bit of a problem, but at least you can choose, to some extent, how strongly you bond with them.

 

Raj Persaud, Visiting Gresham Professor for the Public Understanding of Psychiatry

My name is Raj Persaud and I am a consultant psychiatrist at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals in South London.  I am really delighted to be taking part in this joint seminar with our American colleagues.

If I might be permitted to continue the long and noble tradition we have in Britain of teasing Americans a little bit, I worked as a psychiatrist in America for a while.  I was at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and I was very tempted to stay and continue working as a psychiatrist in America, because there are so many things about American society that I felt very engaged with, but there was one thing that did bring me scurrying back to the UK.  That was the fact that I found it rather disturbing that if you want to practice psychiatry, particularly in Baltimore, before you can work with the patients and interview them and offer them treatment, you have to search them for guns!  What was particularly disturbing about this was that you would often find guns - and I do mean guns in the plural sense, not just one gun.  I do find that the Americans, particularly the gun industry in America, have a very responsible approach to gun control.  Many of my patients, who would obviously be very psychotic, on a mission from God, actively hallucinating, would walk into a gun shop and would say they would like a gun, and the response would be 'What calibre would you like, Sir?'

Many of you will know that I have an interest in the prevention in psychiatry, how to prevent us developing psychiatric disorders and, to that end, emotional control is a very deep part.  Those of us who are able to manage our lives better, who avoid psychological problems, are holding our tempers, we are keeping to our diets, we are fulfilling our promises, we stop after a couple of drinks, we save money, we persevere at work, we keep secrets, and so forth.   Underlying all of these is the ability to control ourselves and in particular control our emotions. 

I handed out a personality test earlier.  (The text is reproduced at the end of this transcript.)  I will not tell you exactly what the test reveals about you, but I hope you will make a note of your scores, because it does pertain to a key aspect of your abilities as regards emotions.  We will come back to that in a moment, but I hope you will fill the test out before I reveal what the test is about, because people like to revise their answers after they find out!

The test predicts how well, for example, theoretically, you will do in passing exams, how likely you are to commit crime, how healthy and positive your relationships are likely to be, how good your self-esteem is, a wide variety of variables, and it does come back to an issue around emotional control, which we will discuss a little bit later.

But I want to start with a joke. I hope you will indulge me.  It is a very old joke, but I think it illustrates a very important point about emotional control, and the joke is this.  There is a very wealthy man who, as is the way of the world, has three girlfriends.  He has decided eventually he is going to stop playing the field and he needs to settle down, and he is going to have to choose which of his girlfriends he is going to marry.  Because he is very wealthy, the way he will decide is to see how these women handle money, so he gives them a test.  He gives each one of them £5,000, and he says he will decide which one he is going to marry depending on how they spend the money.

So the first girlfriend spends the money on buying very beautiful fashionable clothes, and getting herself a makeover.  She says to him, 'I have spent the money making myself more beautiful just for you.'

The second woman takes the money and invests it on the stock market.  She doubles the money, hands the man back £10,000 and says, 'If you marry me, I will make you even wealthier than you are now.'

The third woman takes the £5,000 and spends it on buying all the wonderful gadgets that this man, like any man, would love to have but, being too busy making money, he never has the time or the chance to indulge himself.  So she buys all the wonderful chrome and leather furniture and electronic gadgets that men love.  She says to him, 'If you marry me, I will ensure that you have all the wonderful things that you have always wanted.'

So the man thinks very carefully about what these three women have done, and of course he decides in the end to marry the woman with the biggest breasts!

What I like about that joke is that it illustrates a really important issue, which is that we often want to control our emotions, but actually we are often driven by emotions and therefore we are the victim of emotions.  You could say this man was a victim of basic biological drives, and although he tried to keep them under control, they came through in the end. 

It was Freud of course who first said that, in a way, our lives are dominated by this permanent conflict between the darker, deeper, perhaps even unconscious emotional side of our lives and the more rational, logical, civilising part of our brains.  We have been hearing some very good data from the previous speakers. In the modern world of course we can actually image the parts of the brain involved in emotions.  We can divide the brain into two basic systems: one is often referred to as a hot system, a system that makes decisions on emotions.  It says, 'Do this because it feels right to do it.'  But then there is a cold system of the brain that says, 'Do it because it is in our self-interest.'  It is more in terms of planning and long term action, it is more logical, rational, and thinking hard about the future and rational self-interest.  We can now model with brain scanning, and you have been hearing a bit about this, the parts of the brain involved in these two different systems.  We have heard a bit about the amygdala, for example, which is a part of the brain involved in emotion and lights up when you are experiencing fear, anxiety or disgust; and then there is the anterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain involved in planning and long term judgement.

The fact that we can now image these different brain systems has quite dramatic implications, and here is an example.  It is no longer politically correct to admit to being a racist, so if you are interviewed by a psychologist and given a basic questionnaire that asks you obvious questions that probe your racism, people know, if they are racist, that they need to control their emotional state, control their answers, and not reveal they are racist.  But, people who score high on an unconscious test for racism, called the implicit association test, that is not a test where you are directly asked about your racism, but it comes at it so subtly you do not know that is what is being probed.  Incidentally, the questionnaire I handed you was not about that, because I see several of you quite alarmingly trying to change some of your answers now! 

But if you stick these people who are scoring high on the implicit association test, in other words they do not consciously admit to racism but unconsciously they are detected to be racist by these tests, if you stick them in a brain scanner, functional MRI scanner, and show them pictures of people from different races, lo and behold, their amygdala, which is what lights up when you experience fear and disgust, tends to light up when they are shown faces of races from other people.  What is fascinating about this is we can now use this kind of technology to detect racism at the brain level, even when people are denying being racist.  Also what is fascinating about it is that there are different levels of emotional control.  People can control their emotional state to not admit to being racist in front of you, but they do not seem to be able to control it at a deeper level when they are inside the brain scanner.

It is possible that in the future, with the correct training, you might even be able to learn to control your amygdala, and that is what I am really interested in: can we learn to control our emotional states?

The ability to control them has all sorts of benefits.  For example, lie detectors.  The famous polygraph is basically a system that detects your emotional state.  When you are trying to tell a lie, you become anxious or guilty, your blood pressure goes up, your pulse rate goes up, and the lie detector famously detects these physiological indices.  If you can learn to control these physiological indices, then you can learn to defeat the lie detector.

I will give you a quick tip on how to do that just in case any of you should even run into trouble with the police.  You should give yourself a cognitive task which gives yourself a high cognitive load, and that distracts you from the question, so you do not focus on it and you do not feel the surge of emotion when it comes to anxiety or guilt.  Giving yourself that cognitive load allows the brain to be distracted from your emotional state and you are much less likely to get anxious when asked the question and when you are having to lie.  One famous cognitive load question is to give yourself a mathematical task that absorbs you, and you are giving yourself that task and you are running through it while you are answering questions.  The famous task is to subtract 7 from 100, and keep subtracting 7 from the answer. 

So it looks as though at the moment we can teach people to control their emotion to defeat the polygraph, but we cannot yet teach people to control their emotions in the sense of defeating a functional MRI scanner, but that may come in the future.

Why are emotions then so difficult to control?  One answer is possibly that emotions are there for a very good reason.  They are biologically built into us.  We see there is a part of the brain called the amygdala; it is actually structurally part of our brains to experience strong emotional states like fear and disgust and therefore emotions are part of our fundamental drives.  They are the fundamental push and pull system.  They are what pull us towards something and make us run away from something, and emotions underlie that.

One good example of that from a news story that was in the press recently comes from a woman, the female astronaut.  She was pursuing a man who was the captain on the NASA craft that she worked on.  She fell in love with him and pursued him.  This was a very highly intelligent woman, who did very well at school, scored very high grades, was performing very highly as a scientist.  Then her world seems to collapse because she was in the grip of very strong emotion, the emotion of love and attraction which you have been hearing a bit about.  I just want to read you a very brief paragraph from the news story covering this, because I think it is so remarkable and reveals so much about the power of emotions.

The headline is 'Astronaut nabbed in murder plot - police affidavits detail bizarre tale of NASA love triangle.'  February 6th:  Here are the Florida police reports detailing the arrest of NASA astronaut Lisa-Maria Nowak, who is facing charges that she allegedly plotted the murder of a female rival for the affection of astronaut William Oefelein.  Nowak, a 43 year old mother of three, was arrested early Monday after attempting to attack Coleen Shipman, a 30 year old Air Force Captain, on a parking lot at Orlando International Airport.  According to the Orlando Police Department reports, Nowak drove 900 miles from Houston to Florida when she learned that Shipman, who Nowak believed was involved with the 41 year old Oefelein, would be arriving there by 'plane.  Nowak, who told cops that she only wanted to speak with Shipman, was wearing a wig and trench coat when she tried to accost Shipman at the airport.  After dousing Shipman with pepper spray as she sat in her car, the disguised Nowak fled, but was apprehended at a nearby bus stop.  Before her arrest, police reported, Nowak had disposed of a trench coat, wig and BB pistol in an airport trash can.  A subsequent search of Nowak's auto and handbag turned up other incriminating evidence, including a steel mallet, a new folding knife, emails from Shipman to Oefelein, and handwritten directions to Shipman's house.  Nowak was first charged with attempted kidnapping, battery, destruction of evidence, and attempted burglary.  Prosecutors added the attempted murder rap today and filed a new charging affidavit dealing the felony charge.  When Detective William Beckton asked why she needed all the weapons in her possession, Nowak said she only planned to scare Shipman.  'When I mentioned to Mrs Nowak that I figured she had come to Orlando to kill Mrs Shipman, Mrs Nowak said that she was never going to hurt Miss Shipman,' wrote Beckton, who admitted that Nowak could not provide a reasonable explanation for possessing the weapons.

There was a reasonable explanation for that bizarre behaviour, which was she was in the grip of very strong emotion.  It is interesting how powerful that motivation of love and attraction is.  It made this woman drive non-stop for 900 miles.  May be that is the point of powerful emotion: it makes us overcome massive obstacles by providing that kind of drive. 

One aside: I wasn't going to mention this, oxytocin has come up already this evening.  Oxytocin is a hormone that is released when we have an orgasm, and it is interesting that it is also linked with trust.  In other words, if you experience a surge of this hormone in the presence of another person, then you start trusting them.  Right there, you have a huge amount of human problems, the fact that when you have orgasms in the presence of someone, you start to trust them.  That is the source of a huge number of human problems.  You can see the power of emotion in that.

So emotions drive us towards something in a very powerful way, in a way to overcome massive obstacles, but these emotions also make us avoid things.  For example, you are on a train, the train has a crash, you have to climb over dead bodies to get out of the train rapidly, and you feel relieved to have survived.  But, a few days later, you notice that getting even near a train station, you become very anxious, and may be you might develop the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  What the very strong emotions of anxiety and fear will be doing is stopping you going near trains.  There is a sense in which, at an evolutionary and biological level, it makes sense for an animal, if it experiences extreme danger in one situation to begin to experience negative emotions that lead that animal to stay away from the geographical location, so it is a kind of survival mechanism.  The problem is, if you develop post-traumatic stress disorder and you refuse to get on trains again, it could well be that trains are no longer dangerous.  It is not rational for you to avoid trains but, as any therapist will tell you, no amount of trying to argue you out of not going on trains again is likely to work.  You have to go near trains, using graded exposure, a behavioural treatment, and that is the most effective way of overcoming your emotional state.  What we know is that if we could learn to control our emotions, if we could learn to control our anxieties, so we could get back on the train without having to go through a long, extensive therapy, then that would be extremely helpful.

Recent research indicates that people vary in their ability to control their emotions.  A researcher called June Tagne from America has recently published a paper where she used a personality scale to measure one's ability to control one's emotional state, and that, in abbreviated form, is the personality scale I have just distributed to you.  If you score high on your ability to control your emotions - the research on this is quite fascinating - it predicts you will do better at university, you will get better academic grades at school, you will have less problems with impulse control, be able to stick to your diet, you will not drink excessively, you will not spend excessively, you will save, your mental health will be better, your self-esteem will be better, your relationships will be better.  If you can exert emotional control, often when you are with someone who is a bit irritating, you learn to control your irritation, you will bite your lip, you will not say things to them that could lead to upset in the future.  You also, if you exert emotional control, will resist the temptation to get involved with someone else, so emotional control is a very powerful thing to be able to achieve.

In the quiz that I gave you, the more Bs that you got, the higher your emotional control.  Now, here is the interesting question with this research.  Is it the case that if you got 10 out of 10, in order words, if you get the maximum score for emotional control, is there a sense that is constantly better, that it is always better to have more emotional control than less?  Because oftentimes in psychology and psychiatry, there is more of a curvilinear relationship: in other words, a certain amount of emotional control is good, rather than none at all, but if you have too much emotional control, some people would argue that is actually bad for you.  There are two areas in which people would argue it's bad for you. 

One is, they would say, perfectionism.  Perfectionists control themselves to the extent of performing to an excessive standard when it comes to work, for example, and surely that is bad for you, because sometimes these people work so hard.  I had a patient once who wanted to cook the perfect dinner for her husband every time he came home in the evening.  She was so obsessed with cooking the perfect dinner, she would start cooking it the moment he left in the morning.  She spent eight hours preparing the perfect dinner.  Obviously, a huge amount of control is involved to subjugate the rest of your life to cooking the perfect dinner, but actually, some people would say that is when their control is out of control, because there is a sense in which if you are going to devote your whole life just to cooking the perfect dinner, the rest of your life is going to suffer, so that is not real control.  Control, real emotional control, is having the flexibility to adapt to the circumstances you find yourself in. 

Another classic example is anorexics.  Anorexics demonstrate massive emotional control in being able to not eat when the rest of us would eat and they dramatically lose weight as a result, but is it possible, again, this is an example of control being out of control, because what is really driving the anorexic is the fear of being too fat.  She is so frightened of being too fat that she keeps losing weight long beyond the point at which it is healthy to do so.  Anorexia has a 10% mortality rate and a lot of anorexics will die because they are so frightened of being overweight.  So is there, again, a sense in which their excess of control is out of control?

Tagne's research has a very interesting answer.  They found that the higher you scored on emotional control, the better your life was in general.  There was no curvilinear relationship.  If it is the case that the more emotional control that you have in your life, the better your life is, why is it evolution has not led to all of us gradually getting more and more emotional control?  Why is it there are still people, like the Florida astronaut, who lose emotional control?  Why is it eating disorders and impulse disorders, like alcoholism and so on, and all the gamut of human emotions where we do not have control, are still so prevalent?

There is an interesting answer that has just been suggested by a paper, not published yet, by a psychologist Daria Zabalena working at North Dakota State University.  She and her team suggest that is it is true that the more emotional control you have in your life, the more successful you tend to be; however, when friends of people of very high emotional control are interviewed, they say, 'Yes, he is very reliable, yes, he is very successful, but you know what, he is a bit bland and unspontaneous.'  In other words, excessive emotional control, if there can be such a thing as that, does lead to a huge amount of success, but makes you a less interesting person to be with as a friend. 

Zabalena makes the point and using the example of the movie and the TV series Star Trek, both the old series and the new series.  In the old series, there was a character called Spock who did not experience emotions and was totally logical, completely self-controlled.  In the new series, there is a character called Data, who is an android, and Data does not experience emotions either; Data is logical, completely self-controlled.  In both series, the Vulcan Spock and Data are constantly, because of their superior resilience and emotional strength, because they do not experience emotions and their far-sightedness and their logic, they are always bailing the humans out of trouble.  They are always rescuing them from disaster, and the humans rely massively on Data and Spock.  Yet, what is fascinating about the series is none of the humans wants to be Spock or Data, but Spock and Data spend all series trying to experience human emotions.  They want to be more human, yet the humans do not want to be like Spock or Data, despite the fact that being Spock or Data is often very useful in life. 

Let me conclude with a thought, which is ,why do we do stuff?  Why we do stuff comes back to emotions.  Aristotle said, several millennia ago, that the answer to why we do stuff is always about happiness, and he said it is very simple to understand that.  When you ask people, 'Why do you pursue money?' 'Why do you pursue power?' 'Why do you pursue your neighbour's wife?' 'Why do you pursue this, that or the other?' the answer is always people say, 'I pursue money because it will make me happy,' 'I pursue power because it will make me happy,' 'I pursue the neighbour's wife because it will make me happy.'  No one can ever supply an answer to 'Why do you pursue happiness?'  There is no answer beyond that.  So Aristotle argued that happiness is the ultimate purpose or the ultimate goal of humankind.

Evolutionary psychology would say now, that is not quite true, that actually the ultimate purpose is to survive to future generations, but now we are liberated from the evolutionary purpose, whenever you get asked why we do stuff, it comes back to emotions.  We do it for emotional reasons, but the 'how' you do stuff, you can improve dramatically by developing more emotional control.  Going back to the female astronaut who drove 900 miles, the 'why' she did it had all to do with very strong emotions she was in the grip of, the 'how' she did it was very disturbed because the emotions actually govern the 'how'.  If Data  or Spock had decided to target this individual and to secure them, because they would have had more emotional control, they might well have been more successful, because they would have come up with a better strategy or a better tactic that would have secured the affections of this person in the long run, but the trouble is that Data and Spock would never have developed the reason for doing it.  They would not have had the 'why' although they would have had the 'how'.  So the art in life is to have the 'why' and also the 'how'.

 

The following is the survey referred to by Raj Persaud:

PLEASE RING THE RESPONSE WHICH BEST DESCRIBES YOURSELF - DON'T TAKE TOO LONG - JUST GIVE THE ANSWER WHICH SEEMS MOST APPROPRIATE FOR YOU ON BALANCE. ADD UP THE NUMBER OF A'S AND B'S. A KEY ASPECT OF YOUR PERSONALITY WILL BE REVEALED BY THE SCORE AND THIS WILL BE DISCUSSED DURING THE LECTURES

(1) I am more likely to say something inappropriate in conversation than most

Agree (A) Disagree (B)

(2) Getting up in the morning is easy for me

Agree (B) Disagree (A)

(3) Certain things are really bad for you, but if they are fun, they are still worth doing

Agree (A) Disagree (B)

(4) Once a big decision has been made I stick to it and never consider changing my mind

Agree (B) Disagree (A)

(5) I buy many things which I don't use much later on

Agree (A) Disagree (B)

(6) I am known for keeping secrets absolutely

Agree (B) Disagree (A)

(7) For most tests or exams I have worked or studied all night at the last minute

Agree (A) Disagree (B)

(8) My diet would be considered healthier than most others

Agree (B) Disagree (A)

(9) I am not famous for patience when dealing with irritating people

Agree (A) Disagree (B)

(10) I tend not to interrupt others even when they are taking too long to get to the point

Agree (B) Disagree (A)

 

 

     ©Professor Joseph LeDoux, Professor Keith Kendrick and Professor Raj Persaud,
Gresham College, 21 February 2007