The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier

The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier

Translator: Queenie Lee
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven What would art be like without emotions? It would be empty. What would our lives
be like without emotions? They would be empty of values. So a famous classical poet said, “We hate and we love;
can one tell me why?” – Catullus. Science does not answer why questions;
science answers how questions. But the why question would
be answered as follows. We have feelings because they tell us what supports our survival
and what detracts from our survival. And I’ve been in this field now
for half a century, and it’s been a fairly lonely field because when I was a student
in electrical engineering, I started getting bored, and I worked in the back ward
of a psychiatric hospital and saw human tragedies,
their emotional tragedies. No one knew what emotions were,
how we get these feelings, so I decided to shift to neuroscience – first clinical psychology,
then neuroscience, that is the only path
to understanding how we feel. This seems to be an impenetrable mystery, but it is potentially penetrable
with neuroscience, especially if we take the emotions
of animals seriously. And a friend sent me these pictures. A little fawn was injured, and the dog took
a special interest in the fawn. Now is the dog thinking – (Laughter) [You smell good?] Or interesting? We cannot penetrate
the cognitive mind of animals even though they are very skilled
in living as we saw earlier this morning. So second picture. Is the dog saying, “I like you”? [I want to eat you?] (Laughter) or even “I love you”? We cannot penetrate
those kinds of thoughts, but we can penetrate
feelings scientifically, but only with neuroscience. And if we understand
the emotions of other animals, I think we will begin
to understand our own emotions. An artist drew this for me
about a year ago, and even chickens have emotions, so we mapped out
sadness systems in chickens, and they turn out
to be the same as in guinea pigs, and it looks like they’re very similar
to those in human brains – that’s quite a shocker. Now the animal mind
is of great interest to us right now, and I suspect that if we
really focus on their feelings, we will finally begin
to understand our own. So our approach has required neuroscience, and we can actually turn on emotions by stimulating
specific areas of the brain. We’ve known this for quite a while, but I was among the first to ask: when we turn on emotion,
does the animal feel good or bad? The animal can give us that answer because it can turn on
this stimulation if given the chance, or you can turn it off, and that is our measure of feelings. So we’re very similar
at the bottom of our minds, and we’re very very different
at the top of our minds. We are the cognitive creatures,
they are the emotional creatures, but they, obviously, must have thoughts
about their lives and the world. So this is a powerful emotion, we get angry and we get scared because of very similar
systems in our brain. And it turns out that wherever you produce this anger
response in animals, they turned it off;
they don’t like that feeling. So there is something
like anger in the animal brain, and if we understand those circuits, we might have new treatments
for irritability disorder, someone who is continually getting angry, and you say, “Take a pill,” well, we have no pill. But we do have knowledge
about seven basic emotional systems. We call them Primary Emotions, we capitalize them because this requires
a specialized terminology for science; otherwise, we have confusing conversations
because of so many words. So what feeling does the SEEKING system, others still call it the reward system, the feeling is not pleasure,
the feeling is enthusiasm, this is diminished in depression. And I’ll show you
one clinical trial we’re running where we’re facilitating enthusiasm
directly through deep brain stimulation. That’s the feeling (Laughter) in the vernacular, I’m using everyday terms here, of course. There are many sources
of anxiety in the world, but we only have one powerful fear system. And what shall we call
the feeling of LUST? Well – (Laughter) I thought of “passion,”
but that is too broad a term. Now CARE is tender and loving, it’s hard to describe
these pre-verbal powers of the mind. The PANIC system generates
loneliness and sadness, and like I’ve told you,
in chickens we measure separation calls. So PLAY brings you great joy. If you have too much psychological pain,
namely the PANIC system, can cause panic attacks also. This is the gateway to depression:
too much psychological pain. If it’s way beyond bounds, people begin to think
about killing themselves. So we have developed one antidepressant by focusing on the molecular biology
of happiness and joy, and it is currently in human testing. Yes, that is the way tender,
loving feelings feel in the mind, it has a certain dynamic. It comes across in the body
the way the mother caresses a child, and a child that doesn’t have that will have psychological problems
for the rest of his or her life. So if we understand
these emotional systems, some of them will be rewarding,
some are punishing, but they’re never neutral, and that is the evidence
that they have emotional feelings. And we can predict that if we stimulate
the RAGE system in humans, they will be very angry, and it has been shown, just accidentally
during surgical procedures. So let’s focus on this PANIC system
that we started to study 45 years ago. When you separate a young one
from the mother, they begin to cry because the mother
is the absolute source of security, and we started measuring this crying and trying to figure
out a neuro anatomy of it and the neurochemistries, and that has led to new treatments
for depression as well as for suicide. If you take a little bird, and they’re born
and they’re walking around and they’re crying, crying, crying
looking for their mother, as soon as they find the mother’s wings,
they settle down and they’re comfortable, and we can simulate this by simply holding
the little ones in our hands, they immediately quiet down,
they feel comfortable, their beak goes down,
and they fall asleep. This is because we’re activating chemicals that counteract
psychological pain, and the most powerful chemistry
for this turns out to be brain opioids – that’s a shocker. It turns out that our love
and our attachment are partially addictive phenomena; they ride upon our internal opioids. They provide us with a sense of security
that everything is right in the world. So there we are, that is the reason we become
addicted to these molecules, and it’s a tragedy of our country
that we put people in jail as opposed to putting them
in treatment facilities to explain what’s happening
in their brains. I think it would be wonderful if our government
had an open conversation about the sources
of addiction in our brain. Opioids mediate motherly love, the attachment bond
between mother and child, the attachment bond
between loving adults. And then we found that the molecule
that releases milk from the breast also is very powerful in the brain
in reducing the panic response, the separation distress response, and lo and behold, the molecule
that manufactured milk in the breast is equally effective
in reducing separation distress. So the physiology of motherhood
is the physiology of love, and we mapped this system with deep brain stimulation
in guinea pigs first and then chickens, and the anatomy was the same, the neurochemistries were the same. And you see that
in the guinea pig picture, a deep sub cortical system where you can activate
the separation cries, and even if you take an adult guinea pig
that no longer cries, if you put an electrode in there, they will cry like a little baby
as long as you provide the stimulation. So where does it go? It kind of develops inhibition
from higher brain areas. Testosterone is something
that counteracts crying, that’s why there’s a large difference
in male and female emotions. Antonio Damasio imaged
emotional feelings for the first time and found a very similar trajectory, and then Jon Kar Zubieta,
the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, found that human depression and sadness were low opioids
in these same brain areas – remarkable! We are brothers and sisters under the skin
with all the other animals, which provides us
with a special responsibility for how we treat them
in this world of ours, the wonderful pictures
we saw art share with you. So we have generated three new concepts. The first one is to use safe opioids,
not only to treat depression, and buprenorphine is a safe opioid
because you can’t kill yourself with it. Respiratory depression
does not get so extreme because it begins to block
its own action at higher doses, and this could be used for depression
for the last 30 years, but we don’t have a culture
that permits this. And we’re testing this
as an anti-suicide agent in Israel, so we’re using the Beck suicide
inventory in people that are thinking
about taking their lives. During the first week
in these four individuals, all four showed benefits
from both placebo and buprenorphine. Now placebos release opioids in the brain, but by the second week
the placebo was no longer effective but buprenorphine still was. This led us to test 60 people,
double-blind, placebo-controlled, and that trial will be
finished by Christmas. And it will work, I am confident. The second concept has been to use deep brain stimulation
to restore enthusiasm for life, and this cannot be easily done in America. I did convince colleagues in Europe who are doing deep brain stimulation
for Parkinson’s disease to move their electrode slightly
into the SEEKING system, because we know from animal work, if you over-stimulate
the separation PANIC system, it decreases the enthusiasm for life
as this attempts to summarize. And if you could elevate
the seeking mood directly, the enthusiasm mood,
it should have antidepressant effects, and lo and behold, they published this paper
about the middle of July: six of seven depressed people that had not gotten
any benefits from anything, including electroconvulsive shock, showed dramatic elevations
in the desire to live and enthusiasm to do things in the world, they were basically normalized
by facilitating the SEEKING system. And finally, we have
been using PLAY as a model for identifying new molecules
for antidepressants. What would be better
than some molecular pathway to facilitate social joy? The only thing better is to live
in the human family, happily, with art, culture, music,
all of the fine things in life. Of course, human relationships
are the best antidepressants, but we have joy systems in the brain, and we can figure out the molecules, and we have done that
with my Northwestern colleagues, and we have developed
a new antidepressant that came from the analysis of cortical changes
in gene expression patterns and checking out the candidates
as possible antidepressants. And the first couple were antidepressants, but they also had medical dangers, but we found one that didn’t have
any of these problems. By analyzing rats playing,
purely positively, I’ve gotten a famous name
of the rat tickler – (Laughter) (Video) Jaak Panksepp: We have listened
to animals playing – this is from 1998 – what appeared to be
the sounds of laughter, and we studied these for a couple of years without quite understanding
that this might be laughter. And then one day we decided
to tickle some animals, and we realized
that we had to look at the sounds at a very different register
than we can hear, so we obtained these transducers
that are called bat detectors, that can bring very high frequencies
down to our auditory range, and when we did this
and we listened in, we could tickle animals and generate a lot of vocal activity that appeared to be laughter. These animals would
begin to enjoy our company, and they would start
to play with our hands, and wherever we will put our hands
they would follow it. And when we tested these animals to ask whether they were enjoying
this kind of activity, the unambiguous answer was yes. (Laughter) (Applause) (On stage) JP: I might share that the day before
that was filmed by the BBC, our first publication in that area, they told me I had no more
than a year to live, no matter what. So, glad to be here with you. (Cheers) (Applause) If we finally take the emotions
of the other animals seriously, we will finally understand how we have these feelings
of joy and sorrow, anger and sadness. Essentially, this molecule
is called GLYX-13, it’s a very long story that I don’t have time
to share with you here, but it is already in phase two
FDA approved human testing. Single injection produced
antidepressant effects immediately, and those effects
from the one treatment lasted a week. No psychiatric medicine has yet
been developed by human knowledge; so far everything has been discovered
by serendipity and chance. Science has only refined the molecules. This may be the first psychiatric medicine
to come from human knowledge by taking animal feeling seriously, and this has no poisonous properties
as far as we can tell; it’s also not addictive. So finally, this is the conclusion
of a 50-year-old journey. I do hope that people
take a very different attitude to animals than has been common, in research and a variety
of other human activities. We are brothers
and sisters under the skin, and we better recognize that. And once we understand them,
we will finally understand ourselves. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. RIP Jaak. Your work made a difference – and, hopefully, increasingly more of your cynical colleagues will sit up and pay attention. Thank you for your generous sharing – and your kindness to all things great and small — as well as your many contributions to the study of emotions at the dawn of the study of affective neuroscience. You will be missed.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    "It takes a village to transform a world!

  2. I was only listening to the audio.
    His message is powerful, informative, and beyond respectable.
    His voice is unbearable.

  3. Time after time i get surprised which kind of diamond we can explore as a modern explorer of our interest. Peace to your soul … my soul friend.

  4. I'm a male, most would say a strong or alpha male, and I get a lot of emotional relief when I make myself cry about once a month. I call it my period. For those who may want to ask me questions or make any comment to me, you should know YouTube has blocked me from receiving any comments or feedback entirely. Even though most of my comments are questions on non controversial subjects. I wish I could have a conversation with you, but sadly it's not possible.
    He looks a lot like the guy who used to put out psychology videos peter gerlach.? He wrote a very interesting book, I think it was titled "Who's really running your life".

  5. I missed where he said who told him he had no more than a year to live, and for what reason.? Oh, no one can answer my question because I can't receive comments.

  6. This was started with the age old philosophical question of “I love and I hate can one tell me why?” Well my initial and absolute beginning to my own answer of the question is that “one” referred to is not another human or higher power. But the actual subjects of the question. Can what I love tell me why I hate? And can what I hate tell me why I love? Overall my thought process is always circling around why am I thinking and feeling this? How is it making those around me feel? How are others feelings affecting me?
    Beside all this I think this man is very deep emotionally for a scientist and as a literary mind I find his points appealing and easily accessible for my mind to comprehend.

  7. Because feelings are so universal we can not just sense what someone else feels in a recording (no body language) even if it's a different language, but I do exactly that with my animals. I hear a vocalization and then I try to feel what the sound feels like and I have become very skilled in hearing the feeling. 🙂

  8. Big Hug, love and gratitude for giving due respect to animals and their feelings. The emotions in animals has brought enlightenment to many saints in India in the past. God bless you for your invaluable discovery. One who has this deep understanding of animals emotions is definitely a super being My family members are cats, dogs, birds, snakes and many other little species There is such joy living together, nothing can beat this. Love and blessings to all animal lovers

  9. You assume facts not-in-evidence. "There is an impenetrable mystery in the fact that subjective experience exists in a physiochemical world." What came first, the chicken or the egg? What if the real mystery was the fact, that a physiochemical phenomenon exists in a subjective world? You have yet to prove the existence/non-existence of the first entity. Until you get the cause/effect straight, you're clueless. That's the real mystery.

  10. Knowing that emotions of many types is just a chemical release of the brain just tell me it's an addiction to whatever chemical is being released therefore all in the head. It's all in the head. It's created like fairy tales. It's not real because it's created. Brain works all sorts of wonders.

  11. I've been only recently acquainted with Dr. Panksepp's work. I just ordered Affective Neuroscience and can't wait to read it.

    Extremely interesting work and man.

    Rest in Peace.

  12. Jaak's phrasing indicates how incorrect his emotion list is. Rage is an emotion? Or rage is a description for a high level of anger? So that means anger is the emotion, and it exists on a spectrum between annoyance and rage. Unless there is a completely separate method that uses lucky whimsical guesswork, the science of psychology is the answer to understanding emotions and learning how to cope with them. This man is without a doubt mistaken. His solutions will, at best, provide a bandaid for anyone's mental pain that will with virtually zero doubt push your understanding further from the resolutions you are seeking. But hey, some people cut them selves and eat couch cushions to escape their emotional pain. This guy's advice can't be any worse, right?

  13. Also, wouldn't the technical solution to human depression wouldn't be to mimic the opposite emotion, but rather to further research how the brain restores, repairs, and develop emotional maturity (in the concept of findings ways to have the brain develop and produce the correct amount of hormones), and arguably utilize human interaction as one of the main ways of treatment? Don't get me wrong; antidepressants are a wonderful short term solution. But it seems like just that; a short term solution to a long term problem.

  14. The feeling you are talking about is a thought.
    The only feeling I know about is the sensory perception touch.
    Which does not tell you anything, you translate that sensation in the framework of your experiencing structure.
    The animal doesn't have the knowledge to translate the sensation into a feeling.
    An animal's feeling is only interested in the point of contact for purposes of preservation and survival. the sense of touch is not there in nature to tell the animal the way it is feeling, it has no functional value in nature so it is discarded. If the animal touches something hot it pulls away, there is no translation necessary, it is just responding to the stimulus. This is the way it is functioning. As a person you record this Sensation then you translate it as a feeling.
    there may be thinking in an animal but we have made it such a complicated thing.
    the domestic animals seem to be exhibiting traits more prevalent with human behaviour. But it is not translating the world dialectically. it doesn't know it itself exist, because to know anything about your existence you must have some knowledge of it.
    your identity is only what you know about yourself .animals don't have an identity, they have no language to identify their self. It's just functioning like the heart it does not know it is beating, it is not asking am I doing it right, what is the meaning of life. it exists but it doesn't have any knowledge of that fact.

  15. As in October 16th 2018, there are 146 dislikes for this video, which proves that 146 viewers were not hugged enough by their mothers when they were little. I am sorry for all of you guys.

  16. Long shot, but does anyone know what paper or I can get more information about the experiment he mentiomed where test animals could turn off anger stimuli?

  17. Patented medicine glosses over lifestyle and epigenetics yet again. Don't look at things like diet, genes, social environment. Just take a pill to make you forget your sorrows. Now that we understand that all emotion is just neurochemistry, has the need for a natural human life been nullified? Iive however and whatever and when you run into problems just take a pill. Sadly this is a delude d way of thinking. Depression goes hand in hand with chronic inflammation so you may be able to dampen depression, but you will suffer many health issues along with it.

  18. I really loved this speech…accepts it totally Everyone is different and unique in there own way… For some people its emotions for some its money for some it might be any other luxuries or anything … Its all about the taste or a personal likes of a person which makes them inti something… So a person can't say without feelings or anything life is incomplete and all… For me its not true if u chase your tastes or do what gives you pleasure then its not at all a worthless life…Its all about the value which we give… In my case iam not a emotional creature and I don't give much importance to it… For Me life comes ones and I want to make the best out of it… Not to get into some naggy unwanted feelings… So its your life do what makes you happy if its love or emotions or luxuries or passion whatever it may,go for it… Enjoy your life to the best by tasting all the earthly pleasures..rock hard…

  19. One day when I was playing “chase me – chase you” with my dog, I noticed he was making a sound that wasn’t panting, but short bursts of breath that sounded like “laughter”. I discounted it, but he only makes this sound when he appears to be having great fun. Is it possible that this sound is the equivalent to human laughter?

  20. Over-emphasis on motherhood, complete neglect of fathers. Great work, wildly asymmetrical by not mentioning much his own work. But then again, considering the audience's politics.

  21. Human should think twice before slaughtering and eating animals. Animals feel pain, fear etc. as we feel. Mother Nature (Gaia) provides us feeding, isn't necessary eating innocents beings.

  22. for a 1st world country America is always behind and the last to get with the betttering of us as a people

  23. Came to this guy from Jordan Peterson….his book is very dense but loaded with interesting stuff. His daughter was tragically killed by another driver.

  24. The dog was saying "Oh poor little guy. Are you okay? I am here for you. I will help you feel okay because I can empathize with you and you will not feel scared and alone. Instead, you will feel loved and this will give you the strength you need to get better. I am here for you my little friend."

  25. Today I learned: Science does not answer why questions. They are the emotional creatures. I can turn off the "angry" feelings using a pill to some extent. One of my previous flatmates said he would not like to do that.

  26. Jordan Peterson brought me here thanks to the in-depth interview conducted by DoctorOz.

    And I'm really glad I decided to take a look.

  27. Took him a long journey in scientific research to discover what bhuddism has been saying for thousands of years.

  28. interresting talk my question is if part of the brain is injured another sense takes over .what happins to emotions?

  29. I can't understand it. That peope don't understand that animals can feel a huge varaity of feelings is beyond me.

  30. Is he marketing pharma drugs for various emotions, depression is the epidemic these days?
    1. There is no pill to chill
    2. We are FDA testing pill that can trigger chemicals in brain that can lift up your emotions. Jeezzzz!!!

  31. Such a inspiring talk and it's been highly appreciated. God I would have loved to share some thoughts with you Dr. Panksepp and who knows if I share them in this comment area it can reach you through other sources. I'm eager to find out if through neuroscience it is possible to study the suffering from a dog breed population. I for myself have the feeling that it is a option that a population as a whole can suffer because of generation after generation breeding for unhealthy breeding stock. My reference in this is my study about the Dobermann, started with their history till these days. It's in general a sad journey for the breed as a population as also for the many individuals. The ones so noble breed Dobermann is in 2019 in a scary position and their future prospective is at risk. I will waiting if there comes a sign what could give me more insight about my thought and shared feeling…….also if it is not relevant or even possible. All the best wherever you are Dr.Panksepp.

  32. Panksepp, Jaak: (1943-2049) Distinguished psychologist, ethologist, affective neuroscientist, and greatest intellectual troublemaker since Galileo. Successively criticizing analytical psychologists, evolutionary psychologists, and behaviorists for leaving the brain out of their equations for behavior, Panksepp was later forced to recant his heretical views by the APA on the Oprah show, and spent the rest of his remaining years locked in an ivory tower on some Bowling Green. Was later vindicated in 2397 by a consortium of super-intelligent toaster-ovens, but by that time mankind had evolved back to sponges.

    from Dr. Mezmer's Dictionary of Bad Psychology also at site doctormezmer

  33. Great speech and an inspiring story from an engineer to a neuroscientist. Dr Panksepp passed away a few years later after this speech in 2017 but I am sure his legacy will live on with his works and speeches like this.

  34. Love love love! ♥️💕💜 so good the message was for me! Life changing n real reasons we all need to know so much! 😊😊😊😊

  35. You gave closure to my pourpose and my research. The only way I have to repay you this is by sharing my understanding about it with the world. Thank you Jaak, wherever you are.

  36. The part on buprenorphine and depression was very interesting. I've been on the medication for reasons due to addiction and have had tremendous success in treating my depression as well as my other disorder. Very interesting…not a perfect medication but it has allowed me to live my life successfully and mostly happy.

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