Emotion, cognition, and mental state representation in amygdala and prefrontal cortex

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2010:33:173-202. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.051508.135256.


Neuroscientists have often described cognition and emotion as separable processes implemented by different regions of the brain, such as the amygdala for emotion and the prefrontal cortex for cognition. In this framework, functional interactions between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex mediate emotional influences on cognitive processes such as decision-making, as well as the cognitive regulation of emotion. However, neurons in these structures often have entangled representations, whereby single neurons encode multiple cognitive and emotional variables. Here we review studies using anatomical, lesion, and neurophysiological approaches to investigate the representation and utilization of cognitive and emotional parameters. We propose that these mental state parameters are inextricably linked and represented in dynamic neural networks composed of interconnected prefrontal and limbic brain structures. Future theoretical and experimental work is required to understand how these mental state representations form and how shifts between mental states occur, a critical feature of adaptive cognitive and emotional behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*