The study of emotional consciousness and its neural correlates taps into many fascinating questions, such as whether emotions can be unconscious, if animals are able to experience emotions similar to humans, and how exactly emotions are represented in the brain. How one would answer these questions depends on who you are asking, and the various theories on emotional consciousness non-surprisingly propose strongly contrasting opinions on how to answer these questions. The consequences of these answers have far reaching consequences however. Take the example of animal consciousness. Whether or not you believe that the experience of fear in a mouse and in a human bears any resemble to one another will either make the role of animal models redundant or fundamental in the study of emotions.
But how does one go about to studying these questions, how much evidence is there for the current theories of emotion, and is the field at the stage where we have grounds for adhering to one of these theories over another?
In our new review paper out in Neuroscience of Consciousness, Rocco Mennella and I review the cognitive and precognitive approach to emotional consciousness, and examine the evidence on which these theories are built. At the same time we closely examine the parallels between the study of emotional consciousness and perceptual consciousness to see where these fields overlap, and importantly, where they diverge. We argue for an inclusionary way forward in the study of emotional consciousness, by explaining how various experimental contrasts that are available each come with their unique limitations, and a full puzzle cannot be put together without including all of the available pieces. Lastly, we argue that studying emotional consciousness comes with its own challenges, and that methods and contrasts stemming from perceptual consciousness cannot always be adapted to study emotions. We propose several ways in which the field of emotional consciousness can be moved forward from what currently feels like an impasse created by disagreement between the different theories.
The article is openly available here