Getting Emotional: A Neural Perspective on Emotion, Intention, and Consciousness

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Intentions and emotions arise together, and emotions compel us to pursue goals. However, it is not clear when emotions become objects of awareness, how emotional awareness changes with goal pursuit, or how psychological and neural processes mediate such change. We first review a psychological model of emotional episodes and propose that goal obstruction extends the duration of these episodes while increasing cognitive complexity and emotional intensity. We suggest that attention is initially focused on action plans and their obstruction, and only when this obstruction persists does focal attention come to include emotional states themselves. We then model the self-organization of neural activities that hypothetically underlie the evolution of an emotional episode. Phases of emotional awareness are argued to parallel phases of synchronization across neural systems. We suggest that prefrontal activities greatly extend intentional states while focal attention integrates emotional awareness and goal pursuit in a comprehensive sense of the self in the world.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6, Canada ., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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