The long-range goal of my laboratory is to understand how emotions are encoded in the circuitry and chemistry of the brain, and how they control animal behavior. We have conceptualized emotions as internal brain states that control behavior and which display certain basic properties, or "primitives," including scalability (graded intensity), persistence, valence and generalization; these properties are evolutionarily conserved, allowing a cross-species comparative approach. Our objective is to understand how the brain implements these internal state properties at the computational, circuit, cellular and molecular levels, and how these states in turn control behavioral decisions. We are pursuing these questions primarily in the context of aggression and predator defense, in both mice and Drosophila. The parallel study of aggressive vs. defensive states should identify common mechanisms that generalize across different emotions within a species, while the use of two model organisms should reveal whether similar mechanisms underlie analogous emotions across species.
Our hope is that a better understanding of the neural circuit and neurochemical control of internal emotion states in experimentally tractable animal models will help us to better understand corresponding emotion states in humans, and how maladaptations in the control of these brain states may lead to certain forms of mental illness. This in turn may open the way to developing more effective and more specific treatments for psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, phobias and PTSD.
Reviews and Books
Anderson, D.J. and R. Adolphs, A Framework for Studying Emotions across Species. Cell, 2014. 157(1): p. 187-200.
Anderson, D.J., and Perona, P. (2014). Toward a science of computational ethology. Neuron 84, 18-31.
Anderson, D.J. (2016). Circuit modules linking internal states and social behaviour in flies and mice. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 17, 692-704.
Adolphs, R. and D.J. Anderson, The Neuroscience of Emotion: A New Synthesis. 2018, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Anderson, D.J., The Nature of the Beast: How emotions guide us. 2022, New York, Basic Books