C. Rose Brain Series #7: The Emotional Brain

Charlie Rose Brain SeriesEpisode #7 of the special 12-part series on the brain aired on April 21, 2010. To discuss “the emotional brain” with focus on pleasure and addiction, Charlie and co-host Eric Kandel welcomed their panel:

Daniel Salzman studies how the brain assigns an emotional value to the information that it receives from the five senses. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Columbia University.

Wolfram Schultz studies how the brain’s reward systems affect decision making and learning. He is a professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University and a fellow of the Royal Society.

Nora Volkow’s research into addiction helps us understand drug abuse as a disease rather than a moral weakness. She is a director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Washington, D.C.

Eric Nestler’s research on mice has illuminated the molecular basis of drug addiction. He is chairman of the Department of Neuroscience and director of the Brain Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center here in New York.

Among the topics discussed that were of particular interest to me:

  • biological anatomy of what we call emotions
  • degree to which the pre-frontal cortex can regulate emotions, and how addictions destroy the ability of the pre-frontal cortex to control this function
  • scientific basis for considering various addictions as diseases rather than “moral weaknesses”
  • differences between conscious and unconscious (or subconscious) emotional processes
  • medical, pharmacological, and cultural discrimination and stigmatization of addicts and addictions
  • how addictions play into discussions regarding “free will” and individual responsibility
  • how much of addiction is determined (or influenced by) genetics, how much by environment
  • addictions as chronic diseases that with current knowledge cannot be cured, only treated; yet there is still widespread “magical thinking” that addictions can be cured
  • how risk plays into addictions and behaviors
  • effective behavioral treatments (cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, etc.) actually change the brain on biological levels as do pharmacological medications; “they both work through biological processes”

My 15:18 collection of excerpts follows. View the full episode on the Charlie Rose site.