There are two important issues in affective neuroscience
that are creating challenges for researchers in the field
The first issue is the longstanding challenge of finding a comprehensive and robust functional model for emotions and feelings that can serve as a common focal point for research in the field. Although many models of emotion have been proposed, and many testable hypotheses have been generated1, broad agreement in support of a single model has been elusive and many competing perspectives exist. Perhaps this sort of heterogeneity is healthy for discourse in any emerging field, but affective research is advancing rapidly and this lack of agreement creates numerous challenges, not the least of which relates to common terminology. For example, precise definitions for the terms "emotion" and "feeling" have not been agreed upon, and although various attempts have been made to define a common set of emotions, no firm agreement has been reached so inconsistent constructs persist in the literature even at the most fundamental levels2.
The second issue is the fractious standing debate over emotions as natural kinds. In 1990 Ortony and Turner challenged the belief that there might be neurophysiological and anatomical substrates corresponding to the basic emotions3. This perspective has been more recently championed by Barrett who has similarly argued that personal reports of basic emotions are not necessarily correlated with specific causal mechanisms in the brain and/or properties that are observable (on the face, in the voice, in the body, or in experience)4,5. Panksepp has responded citing research that supports the existence of a variety of core emotional operating systems in ancient subneocortical regions of the brain, and arguing that these systems are primary-process ancestral birthrights of all mammals6,7. But Barrett et al have continued to promote a psychological constructionist approach to emotion which has created a significant division within the field5,8.
The Human Affectome project has been conceived to address both of these issues. While each issue represents a significant challenge in its own right, addressing the first issue (i.e., by developing a comprehensive and robust functional model for emotions and feelings that can serve as a common focal point for research in the field) will entail a substantive analysis of the evidence currently dividing the field on emotions as natural kinds. So there is good reason to believe that both issues can be addressed simultaneously.
- Sander, D. in The Cambridge Handbook of Human Affective Neuroscience (eds J. Armony & P. Vuilleumier) (Cambridge University Press, 2013).
- Izard, C. E. Basic Emotions, Natural Kinds, Emotion Schemas, and a New Paradigm. Perspectives on psychological Science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science 2, 260-280, doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00044.x (2007).
- Ortony, A. & Turner, T. J. What's basic about basic emotions? Psychological review 97, 315-331 (1990).
- Barrett, L. F. Are Emotions Natural Kinds? Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science 1, 28-58, doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00003.x (2006).
- Lindquist, K. A., Siegel, E. H., Quigley, K. S. & Barrett, L. F. The hundred-year emotion war: are emotions natural kinds or psychological constructions? Comment on Lench, Flores, and Bench (2011). Psychological bulletin 139, 255-263, doi:10.1037/a0029038 (2013).
- Panksepp, J. Neurologizing the Psychology of Affects: How Appraisal-Based Constructivism and Basic Emotion Theory Can Coexist. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science 2, 281-296, doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00045.x (2007).
- Panksepp, J. Cognitive Conceptualism-Where Have All the Affects Gone? Additional Corrections for Barrett et al. (2007). Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science 3, 305-308, doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00081.x (2008).
- Lindquist, K. A., Gendron, M., Oosterwijk, S. & Barrett, L. F. Do people essentialize emotions? Individual differences in emotion essentialism and emotional experience. Emotion 13, 629-644, doi:10.1037/a0032283 (2013).
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They're recruiting researchers for the initial phase of the project, which involves a review and synthesis of the relevant literatures. The website has further explanations of the project. The project is expected to take tow to three years. There will be an initial workshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August of this year.