Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions

By Jaak Panksepp | Go to book overview

PART II
Basic Emotional and Motivational Processes

In the preceding chapters, we have seen the great esteem that Nobel Committees have had for major advances in our basic understanding of how the brain functions. Most of the recognition has gone to individuals who have worked out mechanisms that have broad implications for understanding neural actions. By comparison, the pursuits of individuals who have worked on the integrative functions of the whole brain have not been comparably lauded. The work of Hess was an exception. When recognition for integrative work was offered again, it went not to the behaviorists who had been working on the nature of learning but to the ethologists who had been working on the spontaneous behavior patterns of animals. In appreciation of the fact that an understanding of instinctual processes is of first-order importance for understanding brain functions, in 1973 the Nobel Committee recognized the work of Konrad Lorenz, Nico Tinbergen, and Karl Von Frisch, the founding fathers of modern ethology "for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns."

The work of these ethologists has generated lasting understanding of behaviors in our fellow animals. Lorenz characterized the rapid imprinting or social attachment processes that emerge between mother geese and their offspring soon after birth. He also found that under artificial conditions this type of social bonding or preference would develop for members of other species, including Lorenz himself. Tinbergen demonstrated that animals are prepared to respond in stereotyped ways to certain aspects of their environments. For instance, young seagulls would beg for food by pecking the feeding spot on the bills of inanimate models that barely resembled the beaks of their parents. He also demonstrated that such "sign stimuli" also existed in stickleback fish, which exhibited aggression simply toward the bulging red belly of a model fish. Von Frisch was the first to work out the innate communication system of another species, namely, the ability of honeybees to inform other members of their hive about the location of food sources by performing a "waggle dance." In fact, the ethological tradition represented by these works goes back to the 1872 classic The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, in which Charles Darwin promoted analysis of the various emotional behavior patterns animals and humans exhibit in nature, a tradition that is being pursued vigorously to this day through the analysis of facial expressions of emotions in humans and postural expressions of emotions in animals.

For a while, ethology, this uniquely European tradition of studying animal behavior, provided a credible alternative to the traditions started by American behaviorists, such as J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner. While behaviorism pursued the general research strategy of observing the learning behavior of animals in artificial environments, the ethologists sought to clarify how animals spontaneously

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