The Roots of Feelings

Animal,Porkey Pig, Lobund-Wistar
Jaak Panksepp saw an emotional basis to animal behavior, and his work to trace its roots in the brain reveals as much about human nature as it does about animals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discover magazine has a Q&A with researcher Jaak Panksepp that’s well worth reading. (The link is below — hold your horses.) It ran in May, but I just saw it today. I last wrote about Jaak in 2009, but I think of his work every time I read about the brain and emotions, and often when I write about animals. In fact, just this weekend, his research came up during an interview.

Below is a quote that will give you a taste of who he is and why his work proved trailblazing. The scene: He’s a young researcher, and beginning to see the reactions of the rats he was testing not as just “behavior” but as behavior with an emotional basis. This was a big step. Behaviorism, the idea that all creatures great and small operate solely at the level of  stimulus and reward, ruled scientific thinking.

“I brought up the psychological issues, and my professor said, Panksepp, I’ve seen guys like you before, and they’re not around anymore. Psychology was not on the table for animal research people. It’s all just behavior, he told me. I said, well, I guess I’m not supposed to think here. This is like some kind of religion. You’ve got a certain view and you’d better say the mantra because that’s how they’re training you, and believe me, young scholars were brainwashed by the hordes. Most of them were ready for the brainwashing like sheep going to slaughter.”

Enjoy the excellent Discover story here. And, here’s the story I wrote about one aspect of Jaak’s work in 2009.

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