The neuroscience of sadness: A multidisciplinary synthesis and collaborative review

Juan A. Arias, Claire Williams, Rashmi Raghvani, Moji Aghajani, Sandra Baez, Catherine Belzung, Linda Booij, Geraldo Busatto, Julian Chiarella, Cynthia HY Fu, Agustin Ibanez, Belinda J. Liddell, Leroy Lowe, Brenda W.J.H. Penninx, Pedro Rosa, Andrew H. Kemp

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Sadness is typically characterized by raised inner eyebrows, lowered corners of the mouth, reduced walking speed, and slumped posture. Ancient subcortical circuitry provides a neuroanatomical foundation, extending from dorsal periaqueductal grey to subgenual anterior cingulate, the latter of which is now a treatment target in disorders of sadness. Electrophysiological studies further emphasize a role for reduced left relative to right frontal asymmetry in sadness, underpinning interest in the transcranial stimulation of left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as an antidepressant target. Neuroimaging studies – including meta-analyses – indicate that sadness is associated with reduced cortical activation, which may contribute to reduced parasympathetic inhibitory control over medullary cardioacceleratory circuits. Reduced cardiac control may – in part – contribute to epidemiological reports of reduced life expectancy in affective disorders, effects equivalent to heavy smoking. We suggest that the field may be moving toward a theoretical consensus, in which different models relating to basic emotion theory and psychological constructionism may be considered as complementary, working at different levels of the phylogenetic hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-228
Number of pages30
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Affective neuroscience
  • Basic emotions
  • GENIAL model
  • Genetics
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Heart rate variability
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Neuroimaging
  • Psychological constructionism
  • Psychophysiology
  • Sadness
  • Vagal function

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