Dynamic organization of the emotional brain: responsivity, stability, and instability

Neuroscientist. 2007 Aug;13(4):349-70. doi: 10.1177/10738584070130040801.


Models of emotion processing have commonly been formulated as dichotomies such as approach versus avoidance. These models and associated research on evolutionary adaptation, awareness, motivational arousal, and cortical-subcortical brain systems are reviewed. A continuum model of emotional-significance processing is proposed to integrate current dichotomies and reflect the highly interconnected nature of brain systems. This model highlights a spectrum from "mismatches," signifying potential danger, to "matches," signifying safety and the expectation of reward. Subcortical-cortical interactions and autonomic arousal modulation support mismatch and match processing across a temporal continuum from milliseconds (in which processing is automatic and arguably nonconscious) to tenths of a second (in which responses are facilitated and contextual evaluation commences) to minutes and hours (when memory consolidation and neural plasticity occur). Variations at distinct points along this continuum, with contributions from constitutional and genetic factors, may contribute to individual differences in emotional stability and instability in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Awareness
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*