While his name may not be familiar outside the research community, there is no doubt that Antonio Damasio is one of the most prolific researchers/philosophers alive. Born in Libson, Portugal in 1944, Damasio would go on to receive his MD/PhD from the University of Libson with a focus in neurology and neuroscience (Damasio, 2014). He has dedicated his career to studying the human experience of consciousness and emotion and has published around 300 papers and 5 books on these topics (Hotz, 2011; Ryan & King, 2011). Today, he is the Director of the USC Dornsife Brain & Creativity Institute, a place where artists, philosophers, and scientists come together to investigate the most pressing topics in neuroscience (USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences, 2021). Today we are going to break down some of Damasio’s contributions to the neuroscience field!
Damasio has dramatically shifted the way neuroscientists view emotion. In the past, emotion was viewed as wholly separate from cognition and consciousness (Izard, 2009; Storbeck, 2007). Many scientists viewed these as separate channels of thought that remained independent of each other. Through extensive research and neuroimaging of patients with brain damage, Damasio has been able to show that structures heavily involved in emotion (such as the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex) were also involved in cognition. Patients with lesions in these areas did not just show abnormalities in emotional function, but also showed significant abnormalities in their problem-solving and cognitive abilities (Bechara, 1999)! These results have been replicated by many subsequent scientists and have led to a change in the neuroscientific zeitgeist. Now it is well acknowledged by the scientific community that emotion and cognition are closely tied together.
Damasio’s work has had large rippling effects in neuroscientific research. His studies have been essential in reaffirming the mind-body connection, and his contributions have earned him a spot as one of the most influential scientists of the 21st century!