Joseph LeDoux highlighted the importance of the amygdala in determining the emotional significance of situations. LeDoux describes two emotional response systems in the brain. The first, originates in the amygdala, is the ‘quick and dirty’ system. Responses here happen automatically and are quite crude. The second system involves the prefrontal cortex, which increases our capacity to respond by bringing in a reflective aspect. According to LeDoux there is no single place in the brain where emotion resides.
The first system is known as type 1 – its responses are immediate and is the result of the evolutionary experience of the species. These reactions are not under our control and result from an initial evaluation of a situation. Type 2 responses are specific to the individual. They are based on prior learning and judgement of what experience from the past can be applied to the current situation. These are under our control.
Emotions can occur in the absence of cognition. Even though the neural circuits for both interact they are distinct. A lot of emotional processing occurs outside of awareness. Feelings then simply the ‘icing added to the emotional cake’, as Ledoux puts it.