I am NOT asking whether people can experience two inconsistent emotions "at the same time". Clearly this can happen, e.g. when people have "mixed feelings" about something.

What I'm interested in, is whether emotions are strictly and purely a "global" phenomenon, or a "local" one.

  • hypothesis 1: emotions are global. Whenever any single brain experiences a set of emotions $X$ at time $t$, then for every region of the brain, that region is influenced by all emotions in $X$ (insofar as that region can be influenced by that emotion at all).

  • hypothesis 2: emotions can be local. Whenever any single brain experiences a set of emotions $X$ at time $t$, then it may sometimes be that one brain region is only influenced by a subset of emotions in $X$, and another region only influenced by a different subset.

A very extreme example would be that the left hemisphere experiences fear and grief, while the right hemisphere experiences joy and relief.

This particular example seems way too extreme to me, but I am wondering whether a far less extreme version of this might be possible. Can two different brain regions receive two different emotional signals at any point in time?

ps. I am obviously not a neuroscientist and I probably am making conceptual and terminological errors. Please be charitable, and address the question I intended to ask.


1 Answer 1


There are two assumptions in this question it may be useful to make explicit. First, there's an assumption that words like "emotion" or "motivation" have meaning at different levels of analysis like organs, neurons, atoms, etc. If when we say emotion we mean the subjective experience, it's not at all clear that meaning exists at the neuronal level. This is related to a grand paradox (below), but even if we backed off from that, connecting subjective with objective creates thorny problems.


Second, the question sort of implies that cognitive functions are carried out by limited areas. This is looking less and less true; there is some evidence for specialized functions, but in general most complex operations (including emotion) are influenced from a complex forward-and-backward activation-and-inhibition cascades in multiple areas.


The experience of emotions appear caused by / related to / influenced by complex cascades of activity across the brain. It's not clear that the words we use to describe the feelings map onto such neuronal activation/inhibition patterns, but even if they did, there's no reason to assume that such patterns of neuronal activation wouldn't co-occur.

tl;dr: Yes.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "patterns overlap in time"? $\endgroup$
    – user56834
    Aug 20, 2018 at 15:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you're not using words as they are typically defined, then I suggest defining them. > en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2018 at 16:22

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