Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Fear ---- Pleasure

Feelings of pain or pleasure or some quality in between are the bedrock of our minds. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 3)

Behaviors associated with pleasure or pain include reactions of approach or withdrawal. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 32)

The disparate theories of emotional experience all point to a common mechanism -- a central evaluative system that determines whether a given situation is potentially harmful or beneficial to the individual. (LeDoux; Emotion and Neuroscience, 357)

Pleasure is a key factor in controlling the motivated behavior of humans. (Kandel; Principles of Neural Science, 1007)

Some of the brain regions now identified as emotion triggering sites are the amygdala, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the supplementary motor area, and the cingulate. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 59)

Stimulation of the nucleus accumbens in humans elicits smiling, laughter, pleasurable feelings, happiness, even euphoria. (Cardoso; Hardwired for Happiness, 173)

Pleasurable feelings that accompany actions such as eating chocolate, laughing, smiling, touching, meditating, singing, listening to good music, and even orgasm are partially attributed to the brain's release of endorphins. (Cardoso; Hardwired for Happiness, 174)

Pleasure Circuit in the Brain

Most experiences in our lives that we find transcendent -- whether illicit vices or socially sanctioned ritual and social practice as diverse as exercise, meditative prayer or even charitable giving -- activate an anatomically and biochemically defined pleasure circuit in the brain. (Linden; Compass of Pleasure, 3)

Intrinsic pleasure circuitry can be co-opted by artificial activators like cocaine or nicotine or heroin or alcohol. (Linden; Compass of Pleasure, 4)


Amygdala and its connections to the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia are likely to influence the selection and initiation of behaviors aimed at obtaining rewards and avoiding punishments. (Purves; Neuroscience, 701)

Orbital cortex may be especially involved in working memories about rewards and punishments. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 285)

Nucleus accumbens -- part of a network of structures involved in feelings of pleasure and reward, whether it is through eating, having sex, or listening to pleasurable music. (Levitin; Your Brain on Music, 89)


Link to Pain and Pleasure Systems


Research study Hippocampal CA3 Link to Ventral Tegmental Area

Research study Ventral Tegmental Area Reward and Punishment


All feelings contain some aspect of pain or pleasure as a necessary ingredient. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 123)

The valence of a stimulus: whether it is rewarding (pleasant) or punishing (aversive). (Zald & Rauch; Orbitofrontal Cortex, 268)

Some parts of the mind register the attainment of increments of fitness by giving us a sensation of pleasure. (Pinker; How the Mind Works, 524)

Pain is the perception of a sensory representation of local living tissue dysfunction. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 76)

Pleasures associated with eating or drinking. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 77)

Thwarting of the consummation may actually cause anger. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 77)

Alleviation or suspension of the state of pain may cause the emergence of pleasure and positive emotions. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 77)

More than two emotions, some aligned with pain, some aligned with pleasure, mostly with pain. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 77)

Pleasure leads an organism to attitudes and behavior that are conducive to the maintenance of its homeostasis. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 77)


Rewards and Punishers as primary reinforcers


Pleasure systems

A key motivator of our lives, pleasure is central to learning, for you must find things like food, water, and sex rewarding in order to survive and pass our genetic material to the next generation. (Linden; Compass of Pleasure, 2)

Release of dopamine onto the nucleus accumbens appears to underlie all reward feelings. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 116)

Feelings of pleasure and anticipation of desirable outcomes are associated with circuits of neurons that employ the neurotransmitter dopamine, running from the ventral tegmental area through the nucleus accumbens to the prefrontal cortex. Such brain circuits are reciprocal, with many feedback loops. (Thagard; Brain and the Meaning of Life, 96)

Dopamine levels rise in the nucleus accumbens in response to natural rewards (food, water, and sexual stimuli), and conditioned incentives (stimuli associated with rewards). (LeDoux; Synaptic Self, 247)

Pleasurable feelings that accompany actions such as eating chocolate, laughing, smiling, touching, meditating, singing, listening to good music, and even orgasm are partially attributed to the brains release of endorphins. (Cardoso; Hardwired for Happiness, 174)

EEG recordings from various parts of the brain during orgasm. Slow, high-amplitude waves similar to those in epilepsy appear, principally in the septum. Orgasm for man and for woman is the supreme ecstasy, intense waves of pleasure and emotion. Acetylcholine in the septum of a female provoked intense sexual pleasure, culminating in repeated orgasm. (Changeux; Neuronal Man, 111-113)


Fear and Anxiety

Amygdala is the area of the brain most involved in fear. (Ratey; User's Guide to Brain, 233)

Amygdala interacts with the medial prefrontal cortex (anterior cingulate and orbital regions). Cognitive functions in prefrontal regions regulate the amygdala and its fear reactions. (LeDoux; Synaptic Self, 217)

Prefrontal cortex and amygdala are reciprocally related. (LeDoux; Synaptic Self, 217)

Amygdala is an important interface between visual and auditory emotionally competent stimuli and the triggering of emotions, in particular, though not exclusively, fear and anger. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 60)

Fear becomes anxiety, desire gives way to greed, annoyance turns to anger, anger to hatred, friendship to envy, love to obsession, or pleasure to addiction. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 20)

Fear conditioning is quick and very long lasting; there is little forgetting with conditioned fear. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 145)

Fear conditioning is an evolutionarily old solution to the problem of acquiring and storing information. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 147)

Direct thalamic input to the amygdala allow the cortex to be bypassed. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 158)

Subregion of the amygdala -- central nucleus has connections with brain stem areas controlling heart rate and autonomic nervous system responses. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 158)

Implicit, fear-conditioned memory, 'emotional memory' (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 182)

Once the fear system is turned on, it's hard to turn it off; this is the nature of anxiety. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 289)

Can't have a complete feeling of fear without the activation of the amygdala. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 298)

There are separate output pathways from the amygdala for different fear related responses. (Rolls; Emotion Explained, 161)

Lateral nucleus of amygdala is a key site of plasticity during fear learning. (LeDoux; Synaptic Self, 124)


Link to Amygdala Mediates Defensive Behavior


Fear and Expectation of Pleasure drive Motivation

Interactions between the amygdala and nucleus accumbens contribute to motivation. (LeDoux; Synaptic Self, 250)




Return to Emotion

Link to Consciousness Subject Outline

Further discussion Covington Theory of Consciousness