A recent New York Times headline proclaimed that: "In Pain and Joy Of Envy, the Brain May Play a Role."
May play a role?! Where else does The New York Times think envy resides? In our hateful hearts? Our covetous colons? Our jealous jejunums?
That The New York Times could doubt the centrality of the brain in human emotions shows just how far we behavioral scientists need to come to get people to understand what we do. How can we expect funders like the NIH and the NSF to invest in behavioral science when even The New York Times is unclear about whether feelings like envy reside in the brain?
This is all Descartes' fault, of course. He persuaded modern thinkers that the mind is separate from the brain. (Although he did think that the pineal gland could potentially be the seat of the soul, if I remember my college philosophy correctly.)
Fortunately, new technologies like fMRI are slowly overcoming Descartes' outsized influence. Ask someone to think envious thoughts, and the scanner shows which part of the brain is working. (The feeling of envy, it turns out, resides within prominent pain centers.)
To behavioral scientists, the importance of fMRI research is to show where in the brain specific emotions, thoughts and behavioral pathways reside.