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What is Affective Neuroscience?

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  • Written By: Donn Saylor
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2016
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Affective neuroscience is the study of the neural basis of emotion. It marries the principles of neuroscience with various psychological applications, such as the studies of emotion, mood, and personality. The human nervous system contains neurons which researchers in this field believe may hold the key to better understanding emotional feelings and impulses.

Much of the inquiry involved in affective neuroscience revolves around identification of specific parts of the brain that play roles in human emotion. The amygdala, anterior cingulate, cerebellum, insula, and prefrontal cortex are among the areas of the brain scientists consider vital to the processing of emotion. Each part possesses a different function. The amygdala, for instance, is thought to be the production center of many emotions, most notably fear, while the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex serve as regulators for the emotions. The insula might be instrumental in how the physical body processes emotion; a section of the forebrain known as the ventral striatum may play a role in addiction.

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The fields of psychology, psychiatry, and psychophysiology — a school of psychology interested in the physiological roots of psychosis — figure heavily into the study of affective neuroscience and vice versa. Those working in mental health treatment and research stand to benefit greatly from advances in affective neuroscience. Better identification of the neural foundations of emotions can lead to enhanced forms of treatment, medications, and possibly even cures. This is especially true for mental illnesses on the affective spectrum, a category of conditions that effect bipolar, unipolar, and schizophrenic patients at a higher rate; isolating the neural causes for this onslaught of illnesses could further treatment by leaps and bounds.

One area of interest for those in affective neuroscience is the field of music therapy. In neurological music therapy, researchers study the neural effects of music on the brain. Experts are particularly interested in how brains operate with music and without music and how this impacts behavior, emotion, and general functioning.

Another area of study undertaken by affective neuroscience is that of meditation. When the mind is in a meditative state, significant positive changes occur on a neural level. These changes greatly influence emotions, responses, and intensities of stress. By identifying the parts of the brain most affected by meditation, researchers deduce that individuals can regulate the neural circuitry of emotion. Levels of regulation, research suggests, are different from individual to individual and between experienced and less-experienced meditators.

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