A recent study has shed light on the distinction between what is normally described as the emotion of fear and other alert systems in the human brain that signal to the brain states of danger.
The research was designed to investigate the responses to stimuli that are exhibited by individuals with a degenerative condition in a part of the brain correlated with emotion, and in particular the emotion of fear...the amygdyla. Urbach-Wiethe disease leaves these individuals with a characteristic inability to feel terror or angst at the sight of many events that are normally immediately traumatic to people without the disease. In it the researchers discovered that the individuals indeed could exhibit fear like responses but did so when they were subjected to carbon dioxide.
In my thoughts and writing on human emotions and consciousness I have created a theory that emotions are only an import factor to the particular experiences that we have as sensed by our standard external senses. Emotions essentially let our neo cortical or conscious mind know of the current experiences which have particular import, they color experience with personal meaning in order to guide behavior. I theorized that consciousness emerges as a dance of the interplay of 4 critical cognitive elements. Incoming sensation and experience, Comparison of sensation to stored experience (memories), evaluation of import of the evaluated experience via emotions and then guidance of behavior via the underlying autonomic internal drives which dictate physiological needs.
The results of this new research provides perfect confirmation of the hypothesis that autonomics and emotion are separate systems with emotions playing a supplemental role to the dynamic of weighing the import of external sensations. It lends weight to the idea that "fear" as we normally understand it, a response to potentially dangerous situations or perceived dangerous situations is in fact a learned behavior a choice of response that doesn't necessarily emerge from an autonomic driver. The fear like response to inhaling carbon dioxide makes sense as a strong signal to modify behavior as CO2 is deadly to life in high concentrations, it would best have a very low level autonomic alert system when encountered that would be triggered independent of an active association of fear induced by an emotion. It makes sense as carbon dioxide is colorless and odorless, unlike the things in the world that we can see are dangerous and learn to associated with a correlated emotional response, CO2 has no way to detect other than the inability to breath....thus when one is exposed to it, an innate response similar to a fear response makes sense as a means to modify behavior and seek to get away from the CO2 source and toward oxygen carrying air.
I posit that the other "emotions" can similarly be decomposed into learned response components and autonomic ones. For example, joy and happiness may be emotional responses that model the autonomic pleasure of orgasmic release. There may be decompositions of anger, envy and other emotions as well....in my work investigating the necessary components of dynamic cognition the creation of a state diagram that would produce the conscious dynamo include emotions and autonomics as weighted factors enabling both to be modulated in fractional ways that can allow any emerged consciousness a wide variety of responses. I feel the resolution of these weights will determine the fluidity of the emerged consciousness to sensory dynamics so far as emotional response is concerned. This may be a key aspect of creating dynamic cognition as controlling the innate response to external stimuli will be fundamental to allowing the emerged mind to be stable. I am looking forward to getting work on coding the elements of the state diagram that I wrote down in 2011 in pursuit of building a dynamic mind and this study gives me confidence that my ideas on the matter at least in the concern of emotions as import factors, have indeed been on the mark.