Emotional change: Neural mechanisms based on semantic pointers

Emotion. 2023 Feb;23(1):182-193. doi: 10.1037/emo0000981. Epub 2021 Nov 29.


Emotional change includes generation of new emotions, switching from one emotion to another, and alteration of the frequency and intensity of emotions. Psychotherapists help clients to reduce negative emotions such as sadness and anxiety and increase positive emotions such as happiness and hope. We explain such emotional shifts by the semantic pointer theory of emotions, which views them as brain processes that integrate neural representations of situations, appraisals of the goal-relevance of those situations, and physiological reactions to the situations. This theory can explain many kinds of emotional change, including the generation and shifting of mixed, nested, and dispositional emotions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Brain
  • Emotions* / physiology
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Semantics*