Interdisciplinary Research on Emotions in Neuroscience and Philosophy

Subproject 4: Neurophilosophy of Fear and Disgust

In the fourth subproject, we focus on the subjective experience of emotions. By studying emotions empirically, one often runs the risk of investigating just the expression and the perception, but not the experience of emotions - this was the case in our experiments of animal emotionale I, in which we mainly made use of visual stimuli. To minimize this problem, we want to use primary aversive stimuli to induce emotions in animal emotionale II. These stimuli have a negative valence without any previous conditioning processes, such that there is a high probability of causing a negative experience. We want to use olfactory stimuli for the emotion of disgust, and pain stimuli for the emotion of fear. Our main interest lies in the aspect of experience and the comparison to our previous research project. It will be a substantial question whether the experience of two concrete basic emotions can be differentiated on the basis of neural processes. Apart from healthy individuals, we will investigate patients with spider and blood phobia - two phobias which are examined as case studies in the third subproject. If it is possible to use functional neuroimaging to make reliable statements about the experience of fear and disgust, then neurocognitive studies could help in the process of determining in how far these emotions are involved in the two phobias. After that, we will use these empirical studies to discuss the philosophical relevance of neurocognitive studies in general. Based on the broad question whether, and in what way, the quantitative analysis of neural signals can contribute to the basic understanding of the human being as an animal emotionale, we try to clarify in how far the study of today's brains can help at resolving the controvery about the evolutionary status of emotions. By reflecting on our own empirical research in this way, we make a genuine interdisciplinary contribution to the often-discussed (and problematized) relationship between philosophy and empirical science.

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