- António Damásio
Neuropsychology Mind and Brain Portal
Antonio Damasio (born February 25, 1944 in Lisbon, Portugal) is David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, where he heads USC's Brain and Creativity Institute and Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute. Prior to taking up his posts at USC, in 2005, Damasio was M.W. Van Allen Professor and Head of Neurology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. His career at Iowa lasted from 1976 to 2005.
Besides being a well-known researcher in several areas of neurology and neuroscience, Damasio is the author of several best-selling books which describe his scientific thinking. "As a leading neuroscientist, Damasio has dared to speculate on neurobiological data, and has offered a theory about the relationship between human emotions, human rationality, and the underlying biology."
Life and work
Damasio was born in Lisbon and studied medicine at the University of Lisbon Medical School in Portugal, where he also did his neurological residency and completed his doctorate. He worked as a research fellow at the Aphasia Research Center in Boston in 1967, prior to receiving his MD in Lisbon. His work there on behavioral neurology was done under the supervision of the late Norman Geschwind, the Harvard neurologist who created the field.
As a researcher, Damasio's main interest is the neurobiology of the mind, especially neural systems which subserve memory, language, emotion, decision-making and consciousness. Damasio's most influential contribution to date is the demonstration that emotions play a critical role in high level cognition, an idea that ran counter to dominant 20th c. views in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. He showed that emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making (both positively and negatively, and often non-consciously); provide the scaffolding for the construction of social cognition; and are required for the self processes which undergird consciousness. "Damasio provides a contemporary scientific validation of the linkage between feelings and the body by highlighting the connection between mind and nerve cells...this personalized embodiment of mind."
This idea has inspired many systems-neuroscience experiments carried out in laboratories in the U.S. and Europe, and has had a major impact in contemporary science and philosophy. It is often discussed in peer-review experimental and theoretical work (an index of its relevance can be gleaned from the fact that Damasio has been named by the Institute of Scientific Information as one of the most highly cited researchers in the past decade). Damasio has formulated the somatic markers hypothesis, which captures the essence of these ideas. Current work on the biology of moral decisions, neuro-economics, social communication, and drug-addiction, has been strongly influenced by Damasio's hypothesis.
Damasio also proposed that emotions are part of homeostatic regulation and are rooted in reward/punishment mechanisms. He recovered James' perspective on feelings as a read-out of body states, but expanded it with an "as-if-body-loop" device which allows for the substrate of feelings to be simulated rather than actual (foreshadowing the simulation process later uncovered by mirror neurons). He demonstrated experimentally that the insular cortex is a critical platform for feelings, a finding that has been widely replicated, and he uncovered cortical and subcortical induction sites for human emotions, e.g. in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala.
In another development, Damasio proposed that the cortical architecture on which learning and recall depend involves multiple, hierarchically organized loops of axonal projections that converge on certain nodes out of which projections diverge to the points of origin of convergence (the convergence-divergence framework). This architecture is applicable to the understanding of memory processes and of aspects of consciousness related to the access of mental contents.
In “The Feeling of What Happens”, Damasio lays the foundations of the “enchainment of precedences”: “the nonconscious neural signaling of an individual organism begets the protoself which permits core self and core consciousness, which allow for an autobiographical self, which permits extended consciousness. At the end of the chain, extended consciousness permits conscience. 
Damasio's research depended significantly on establishing the modern human lesion method, an enterprise made possible by Hanna Damasio's structural neuroimaging/neuroanatomy work complemented by experimental neuroanatomy (with Gary Van Hoesen and Josef Parvizi), experimental neuropsychology (with Antoine Bechara, Ralph Adolphs, and Dan Tranel) and functional neuroimaging (with Kaspar Meyer, Jonas Kaplan, and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang).
Damasio's books deal with the relationship between emotions and feelings, and what their bases may be within the brain. His 1994 book, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, won the Science et Vie prize, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and is translated in over 30 languages. It is regarded as one of the most influential books of the past two decades. His second book, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, was named as one of the ten best books of 2001 by the New York Times Book Review, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and has over 30 foreign editions. Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, was published in 2003. In it, Damasio suggested that Spinoza's thinking foreshadowed discoveries in biology and neuroscience views on the mind-body problem. Spinoza was a protobiologist. His latest book is Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. In it Damasio suggests that the self is the key to conscious minds and that feelings, from the kind he designates as primordial to the well-known feelings of emotion, are the basic elements in the construction of the protoself and core self.
Damasio is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Damasio has received many awards including the Prince of Asturias Award in Science and Technology, the Kappers Neuroscience Medal, the Beaumont Medal from the American Medical Association, the Nonino Prize, the Reenpaa Prize in Neuroscience, and, most recently, the Honda Prize.
His current work involves the social emotions, consciousness and the creative interface between neuroscience and the arts, especially music and film.
Damasio is married to Dr. Hanna Damasio, his colleague and frequent co-author.
'Damasio himself notes, in fallibilist fashion, "I have a difficult time seeing scientific results, especially in neurobiology, as anything but provisional approximations"'. Whether despite or because of that fallibilism, Damasio writes in the belief that 'scientific knowledge can be a pillar to help humans endure and prevail'.
Selected books and articles
- Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Putnam, 1994; revised Penguin edition, 2005
- The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt, 1999
- Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Harcourt, 2003
- Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, Pantheon, 2010
- Meyer K, Kaplan JT, Essex R, Damasio H, Damasio A. Seeing touch is correlated with content-specific activity in primary somatosensory cortex. Cerebral Cortex, vol 21, 2113-2121, 2011.
- Meyer K, Kaplan JT, Essex R, Webber C, Damasio H, Damasio A. Predicting visual stimuli based on activity in auditory cortices. Nature Neuroscience, vol 13, 6, 667–668, 2010.
- Meyer K, Damasio A.Convergence and divergence in a neural architecture for recognition and memory. Trends in Neurosciences, vol. 32, no. 7, 376–382, 2009.
- Immordino-Yang MH, McColl A, Damasio H, Damasio A. Neural correlates of admiration and compassion. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106 no. 19, 8021–8026, 2009.
- Damasio A, Meyer K. Behind the looking glass. Nature, vol. 454: 167–168, 2008.
- Parvizi J, Van Hoesen G, Buckwalter J, Damasio A. Neural connections of the posteromedial cortex in the macaque: Implications for the understanding of the neural basis of consciousness. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, 103: 5, 1563–1568, 2006.
- Shiv B, Lowenstein G, Bechara A, Damasio H, Damasio A. Investment behavior and the negative side of emotion. Psychological Sciences, 16: 435–439, 2005.
- Parvizi J, Damasio AR. Neuroanatomical correlates of brainstem coma, Brain, 126: 1524–1536, 2003.
- Parvizi J, Damasio AR. Consciousness and the brainstem, Cognition, 79: 135–160, 2001.
- Damasio AR, Grabowski TJ, Bechara A, Damasio H, Ponto LLB, Parvizi J, Hichwa RD. Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. Nature Neuroscience, 3: 1049–1056, 2000.
- Damasio AR. How the brain creates the mind. Scientific American, 281: 74–79, 1999.
- Damasio AR. Investigating the biology of consciousness. Transactions of the Royal Society (London), 353: 1879–1882, 1998.
- Bechara A, Damasio H, Tranel D, Damasio AR. Deciding advantageously before knowing the advantageous strategy. Science, 275: 1293–1294, 1997.
- Damasio AR. The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Transactions of the Royal Society (London), 351: 1413–1420, 1996.
- Adolphs R, Tranel D, Damasio AR. Impaired recognition of emotion in facial expressions following bilateral damage to the human amygdala. Nature, 372: 669–672, 1994.
- Damasio AR, Tranel D. Nouns and verbs are retrieved with differently distributed neural systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 90: 4957–4960, 1993.
- Damasio A, Tranel D, Damasio H. Face agnosia and the neural substrates of memory. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13: 89–109, 1990.
- Damásio AR. Time-locked multiregional retroactivation: A systems level proposal for the neural substrates of recall and recognition. Cognition, 33: 25–62, 1989.
- Tranel D and Damasio A. Knowledge without awareness: An autonomic index of facial recognition by prosopagnosics. Science, 228(21): 1453–1454, 1985.
- Hyman B, Van Hoesen GW, Damasio A, Barnes C. Alzheimer's disease: Cell-specific pathology isolates the hippocampal formation. Science, 225: 1168–1170, 1984.
- Damasio A and Geschwind N: The neural basis of language. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 7:127–147, 1984.
- USC Faculty page
- Brain and Creativity Institute
- Audio of Antonio Damasio's 2003 lecture, "Emotion, Feeling, and Social Behavior: The Brain Perspective"
- Ideas of Antonio Damasio – JRSM book review
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