The basic emotional circuits of mammalian brains: do animals have affective lives?

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011 Oct;35(9):1791-804. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.08.003. Epub 2011 Aug 19.


The primal affects are intrinsic brain value systems that unconditionally and automatically inform animals how they are faring in survival. They serve an essential function in emotional learning. The positive affects index "comfort zones" that support survival, while negative affects inform animals of circumstances that may impair survival. Affective feelings come in several varieties, including sensory, homeostatic, and emotional (which I focus on here). Primary-process emotional feelings arise from ancient caudal and medial subcortical regions, and were among the first subjective experiences to exist on the face of the earth. Without them, higher forms of conscious "awareness" may not have emerged in primate brain evolution. Because of homologous "instinctual" neural infrastructures, we can utilize animal brain research to reveal the nature of primary-process human affects. Since all vertebrates appear to have some capacity for primal affective feelings, the implications for animal-welfare and how we ethically treat other animals are vast.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Ethics, Research
  • Humans
  • Mammals / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*