Okon-Singer, H., Hendler, T., Pessoa, L. & Shackman, A. J. (2015). The neurobiology of emotion-cognition interactions: Fundamental questions and strategies for future research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience9, 58.PDFicon-25x39


Recent years have witnessed the emergence of powerful new tools for assaying the brain and a remarkable acceleration of research focused on the interplay of emotion and cognition. This work has begun to yield new insights into fundamental questions about the nature of the mind and important clues about the origins of mental illness. In particular, this research demonstrates that stress, anxiety, and other kinds of emotion can profoundly influence key elements of cognition, including selective attention, working memory, and cognitive control. Often, this influence persists beyond the duration of transient emotional challenges, partially reflecting the slower molecular dynamics of catecholamine and hormonal neurochemistry. In turn, circuits involved in attention, executive control, and working memory contribute to the regulation of emotion. The distinction between the ‘emotional’ and the ‘cognitive’ brain is fuzzy and context-dependent. Indeed, there is compelling evidence that brain territories and psychological processes commonly associated with cognition, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and working memory, play a central role in emotion. Furthermore, putatively emotional and cognitive regions influence one another via a complex web of connections in ways that jointly contribute to adaptive and maladaptive behavior. This work demonstrates that emotion and cognition are deeply interwoven in the fabric of the brain, suggesting that widely held beliefs about the key constituents of ‘the emotional brain’ and ‘the cognitive brain’ are fundamentally flawed. We conclude by outlining several strategies for enhancing future research. Developing a deeper understanding of the emotional-cognitive brain is important, not just for understanding the mind but also for elucidating the root causes of its disorders.