Degeneracy in feelings of arousal

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Chapter 1 endnote 37, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

...women’s feelings of arousal were more strongly linked to the anterior insula, while men’s were more strongly linked to visual cortex. This is evidence that the same experience ​— ​feelings of arousal ​— ​was associated with different patterns of neural activity, an example of degeneracy.

Have you ever felt jet-lagged, or extremely tired, so you guzzle a lot of coffee (or other caffeinated drink), after which your heart is racing and you feel sweaty, but your mind is still fuzzy? This is an example of how feelings of arousal can come from different sources (i.e., they are degenerate). You can feel worked up and jittery (due to an increase in activity in your sympathetic nervous system or due to a decrease in activity within your parasympathetic nervous system, or both). You can also feel activated because of an increase in neurotransmitters that cause you to be awake and alert, paying attention to events in the world.

In the sample of participants discussed in the main text for this endnote,[1] women appeared to be more bodily focused whereas men appeared to be more visually focused in their feelings of arousal. In that particular experimental task (reporting on feelings of arousal while viewing evocative images), a woman’s feelings of arousal more strongly tracked increased activity in the anterior insula (which can be associated with a more internal focus), whereas a man’s feelings more strongly tracked increased activity in visual cortex (related to his changing visual sensations).


Notes on the Notes

  1. Moriguchi, Yoshiya, Alexandra Touroutoglou, Bradford C. Dickerson, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2013. “Sex Differences in the Neural Correlates of Affective Experience.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 9 (5): 591–600.