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LeDoux's Fear Circuit and the Status of Emotion as a Non-cognitive Process

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LeDoux (1996) has identified a sub-cortical neural circuit that mediates fear responses in rats. The existence of this neural circuit has been used to support the claim that emotion is a non-cognitive process. In this paper I argue that this sub-cortical circuit cannot have a role in the explanation of emotions in humans. This worry is raised by looking at the properties of this neural pathway, which does not have the capacity to respond to the types of stimuli that are generally taken to trigger emotion responses. In particular, the neurons in this pathway cannot represent the stimulus as a complete object or event, rather they represent the simple information that is encoded at the periphery. If it is assumed that an object or event in the world is what, even in simple cases, causes an emotion, then this sub-cortical pathway has limited use in a theory of emotion.

Keywords: Amygdala; Emotion; Fear; LeDoux; Non-cognitive Process; Thalamus

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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