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Pally, R. (1998). Emotional Processing: The Mind-Body Connection. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 79:349-362.

(1998). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 79:349-362

Emotional Processing: The Mind-Body Connection

Regina Pally


From the evolutionary perspective first proposed by Darwin, emotions evolved to enhance survival by providing more adaptive solutions to problems that animals commonly encounter, such as maintaining body homeostasis, finding food, defending against danger, reproducing, caring for offspring and sustaining social relationships (Darwin, 1872; Pinker, 1997; Le Doux, 1996). Put in the simplest neuroscientific terms, emotions organise an animal's sustained responses to rewarding and aversive stimuli. The aim of this article is to illuminate the brain circuitry of emotion and show how these circuits apply to a wide variety of clinically relevant issues; anxiety, psychosomatic conditions, attachment and non-verbal communication.

The function of emotion is to coordinate the mind and body. Emotion organises perception, thought, memory, physiology, behaviour and social interaction so as to provide an optimal means for coping with the particular situation that is generating the emotion. Under the sway of fear, we are more likely to interpret stimuli as dangerous, have frightening thoughts, remember frightening things, show increased metabolic readiness to deal with danger, and to undertake behaviours such as ‘freezing’, fleeing or fighting to help avoid the threat. Infant emotions of separation distress organise the infant's bio-behavioural state so as to trigger comforting reunion responses in the care-taker. These examples illustrate a central thesis of this paper.

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