Jaak Panksepp

Given an inherent subjective nature, emotions have long been a nearly impenetrable topic for scientific research. Affective neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp explains a modern approach to emotions, and how taking seriously the emotions of other animals might soon improve the lives of millions.

Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D. Professor and Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University. His scientific contributions include more than 400 papers devoted to the study of basic emotional and motivational processes of the mammalian brain. He has conducted extensive research on brain and bodily mechanisms of feeding and energy-balance regulation, sleep physiology, and most importantly the study of emotional processes, including associated feelings states, in other animals. He introduced the concept of Affective Neuroscience in 1990, consisting of an overarching vision of how mammalian brains generate experienced affective states in animals, as effective models for fathoming the primal evolutionary sources of emotional feelings in human beings. This work has implications for further developments in Biological Psychiatry, ranging from an understanding of the underlying brain disorders, to new therapeutic strategies.

His recent work has focused primarily on the subcortical brain mechanisms of sadness (brain PANIC or separation distress circuitry) and joy (brain PLAY and animal laughter circuitry), work that has implications for the treatment of autism, ADHD, and depression. His work is informed by exploring the consequences of basic knowledge about emotional endophenotypes (natural brain states) for better understanding of human mental health. His monograph Affective Neuroscience (Oxford, 1998) outlined ways to understand brain affective processes neuroscientifically; his Textbook of Biological Psychiatry (Wiley, 2004) focused on how elucidation of emotional processes can facilitate psychiatric practice; and Archaeology of Mind (Norton, 2012) summarized how such knowledge can inform psychotherapeutic practice.

This work has led to three novel antidepressant concepts that are currently being evaluated in human. But perhaps equally importantly, this work provides a novel vision for how consciousness emerged in human brains, which can only be clarified through the scientific study of the phenomenal-experiential-emotional capacities of that exist in the brains/minds of other animals.

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