Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 760–766 | Cite as

Primal emotional-affective expressive foundations of human facial expression

  • Christian MontagEmail author
  • Jaak Panksepp
Original Paper


Emotional facial expressions provide important insights into various valenced feelings of humans. Recent cross-species neuroscientific advances offer insights into molecular foundations of mammalian affects and hence, by inference, the related emotional/affective facial expressions in humans. This is premised on deep homologies based on affective neuroscience studies of valenced primary emotional systems across species. Thus, emerging theoretical perspectives suggest that ancient cross-species emotional systems are intimately linked not only to emotional action patterns evident in all mammals, but also, by inference, distinct emotional facial expressions studied intensively in humans. Thus, the goal of the present theoretical work was to relate categories of human emotional facial expressions—e.g. especially of anger fear, joy and sadness—to respective underlying primary cross-mammalian emotional circuits. This can potentially provide coherent theoretical frameworks for the eventual molecular study of emotional facial expressions in humans.


Facial expression Primary emotional systems Emotion Affect Ekman Panksepp 



The position of CM is funded by a Heisenberg Grant by the German Research Foundation (MO 2363/3-1).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest


Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Psychology and EducationUlm UniversityUlmGermany
  2. 2.Key Laboratory for NeuroInformation/Center for Information in Medicine, School of Life Science and TechnologyUniversity of Electronic Science and Technology of ChinaChengduChina
  3. 3.Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, College of Veterinary MedicineWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  4. 4.Department of Molecular Psychology, Zentrum für Biomedizinische ForschungUlm UniversityUlmGermany

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