In the previous posts we looked at the possibility that GABA receptors are linked to anxiety through an ancient evolutionary mechanism which facilitates movement. More precisely the GABA receptors in a distant relative – the Nematode worm (C.Elegans) relax opposing muscles enabling the worm to move in the necessary direction.
In prior posts we looked at various models of the emotions as shown in the diagram below.
The intention in building a model of the Insular Cortex is to suggest realistically how the neurobiology of the Insular Cortex can play a role in emotional experiences. To do this it is necessary to integrate a theoretical understanding of emotions with the neurobiology of the Insular Cortex and validate this with our intuitive understanding of emotional experiences.
Craig has given a very good account of how the Insular Cortex might play a role both in conscious awareness and in emotional experience and I intend to revisit his work. However it is also necessary to contextualise this in the broader understanding of emotions which I have not yet examined in any detail.
Although the emotions are understood intuitively there is a significant body of theory knowledge also. For instance ‘The Handbook of Emotional Regulation’ (Gross, 2007) is over 650 pages in length and significant research findings continue to emerge each month. Clearly there is a practical limit to how much knowledge can be incorporated into a model and therefore decisions around what to exclude are just as important as the model itself.
In summarising the material to date, the Insular Cortex receives interoceptive information (i.e information about the body’s internal state). This may be important in helping us to feel an awareness of our body. This awareness may be key to our conscious experience and more specifically to some of our emotional states.
This occurs in a wider context of other models of emotions. The Limbic circuit is a brain circuit with ancient evolutionary connections to the sense of smell. The Limbic circuit has been long thought of as being a key brain circuit for emotions. What is likely is that the Limbic circuit and the Insular Cortex play distinct roles in emotional experience and associated phenomenon (e.g. blood pressure changes in response to emotions). It is this level of detail which will be most appropriate for developing a model with practical utility.
The discussion about GABA receptors and movement emphasises another aspect of the model. With sufficient detail it should be possible to identify psychopharmacological correlates of emotions and brain circuits for these emotions. There is a great deal of work that has been done in the clinical area in identifying mood related neurotransmitters. These different approaches offer different perspectives on emotion related phenomena.
Handbook of Emotional Regulation. Edited by James J Gross. The Guildford Press. 2007.
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