Survival Circuit Influences on Human Nature​

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    September 1, 2019 - August 31, 2021

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Region:

    North America

  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Dr. Joseph LeDoux

Institution: New York University

Scientists have long thought that the ancient subcortical circuits generate human emotions. But this project, led by Joseph LeDoux of New York University, is pursuing a different idea. His project centers on survival circuits, that is, circuits of brain cells that help organisms respond to threats in quick and (presumably) non-conscious ways. The project will explore how the complex interactions of these subcortical circuits influence cognition and consciousness, thus shaping human nature.

This project aims to direct future research on survival circuits and their interactions. LeDoux is joined by a world-class, multidisciplinary team of researchers and consultants. Using state-of-the-art techniques in animal studies, they will record and manipulate neural activity to identify specific neurobiological mechanisms, particularly in relation to interactions between survival circuits. They will also record and manipulate neural activity in humans. Although current methods of studying humans have less anatomical precision than those studying animals, it is possible to explore correlates of—and the effects of neural manipulations on—conscious experiences.

The team plans to publish high-impact publications that illustrate the value of studying such mechanisms beyond the scope of mental disorders including the nature of well-being. By generating novel findings across species, they hope to help researchers reconsider the traditional view of survival circuits, leading to a deeper understanding of their role in human nature. Because misunderstandings are widespread in popular culture, they also plan to produce informative videos for lay audiences.


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