The neurobiology of positive emotions

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(2):173-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.06.001. Epub 2005 Aug 15.


Compared to the study of negative emotions such as fear, the neurobiology of positive emotional processes and the associated positive affect (PA) states has only recently received scientific attention. Biological theories conceptualize PA as being related to (i) signals indicating that bodies are returning to equilibrium among those studying homeostasis, (ii) utility estimation among those favoring neuroeconomic views, and (iii) approach and other instinctual behaviors among those cultivating neuroethological perspectives. Indeed, there are probably several distinct forms of positive affect, but all are closely related to ancient sub-neocortical limbic brain regions we share with other mammals. There is now a convergence of evidence to suggest that various regions of the limbic system, including especially ventral striatal dopamine systems are implemented in an anticipatory (appetitive) positive affective state. Dopamine independent mechanisms utilizing opiate and GABA receptors in the ventral striatum, amygdala and orbital frontal cortex are important in elaborating consummatory PA (i.e. sensory pleasure) states, and various neuropeptides mediate homeostatic satisfactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Happiness
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Neurobiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Rats