Tag Archives: #emotions

Chronic Pain Might Impact How The Brain Processes Emotions (Neuroscience)

Neurotransmitters help regulate our emotions—but scientists have noticed a disruption to their levels in people with chronic pain.

More than 3 million Australians experience chronic pain, an ongoing and often debilitating condition that can last from months to years. This persistent pain can impact many parts of a person’s life, with almost half of people with chronic pain also experiencing major anxiety and depression disorders.

Now, a new study led by UNSW Sydney and NeuRA shows that people with chronic pain have an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions.

This imbalance could be making it harder for them to keep negative emotions in check—and the researchers think persistent pain might be triggering the chemical disruption.

The findings are published today in the European Journal of Pain.

“Chronic pain is more than an awful sensation,” says senior author of the study Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, a neuroscientist and psychologist at UNSW and NeuRA. “It can affect our feelings, beliefs and the way we are.

“We have discovered, for the first time, that ongoing pain is associated with a decrease in GABA, an inhibitive neurotransmitter in the medial prefrontal cortex. In other words, there’s an actual pathological change going on.”

Neurotransmitters help communicate and balance messages between cells. While some amplify signals (called excitatory neurotransmitters), others weaken them (inhibitive neurotransmitters).

GABA, or γ-aminobutyric acid, is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Its role in the medial prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain where emotional regulation happens—is to help dial down our emotions.

The research team used advanced neurological imaging to scan GABA content in the medial prefrontal cortex of 48 study participants, half of which experienced some form of chronic pain. A/Prof. Gustin says this relatively small sample size is typical for neurological imaging studies, which are costly to run.

The results show that participants with chronic pain had significantly lower levels of GABA than the control group—a pattern that was consistent regardless of their type of chronic pain.

“A decrease in GABA means that the brain cells can no longer communicate to each other properly,” says A/Prof. Gustin.

“When there’s a decrease in this neurotransmitter, our actions, emotions and thoughts get amplified.”

While the link between chronic pain and decreased levels of GABA has previously been found in animal studies, this is the first time it’s been translated to human studies.

A/Prof. Gustin says she hopes the findings are encouraging for people with chronic pain who may be experiencing mental health issues.

“It’s important to remember it’s not you—there’s actually something physically happening to your brain,” she says.

“We don’t know why it happens yet, but we are working on finding solutions on how to change it.”

A chain reaction

GABA is one of many neurotransmitters in the medial prefrontal cortex—and it’s not the only one behaving differently in people with pain.

In a previous study, A/Prof. Gustin and her team found that levels of glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, are also lower than average in people with chronic pain. These low glutamate levels were linked to increased feelings of fear, worry and negative thinking.

“Together, our studies show there’s really a disruption in how the brain cells are talking to each other,” says A/Prof. Gustin, who has been researching chronic pain for over 20 years.

“As a result of this disruption, a person’s ability to feel positive emotions, such as happiness, motivation and confidence may be taken away—and they can’t easily be restored.”

A/Prof. Gustin says chronic pain is likely to be the culprit behind these neurological changes. However, this theory could only be tested by scanning participants’ brains both before and after they develop chronic pain—and as brain imaging is expensive to conduct, it’s unlikely such a large-scale project would be possible without major funding.

“Everything starts with stress,” she says. “When someone is in pain, it increases stress hormones like cortisol, which can trigger massive increases in glutamate. This happens during the initial, acute stage of pain.

“Too much glutamate can be toxic to brain cells and brain function. We think this disruption to normal brain function may cause the GABA and glutamate levels to change—and impair a person’s ability to regulate their emotions.”

A new form of treatment

Medication is often used to help treat chronic pain, but there are currently no drugs that directly target the GABA and glutamate content in the medial prefrontal cortex. Instead, medication affects the entire central nervous system, and may come with side effects.

A/Prof. Gustin and her team have recently developed an online emotional recovery program, specifically targeted at people with chronic pain, as a non-pharmaceutical option for treating the neurotransmitter disruption.

The findings will be presented in a paper later this year, but the initial results are encouraging.

“The online therapy program teaches people skills to help self-regulate their negative emotions,” says A/Prof. Gustin, who welcomes people interested in learning more about the program to contact the team.

“The brain can’t dampen down these feelings on its own, but it is plastic—and we can learn to change it.”

Featured image: Regulating emotions might be harder for people with chronic pain, the study finds. Credit: Shutterstock

Reference: David Kang et al, Disruption to normal excitatory and inhibitory function within the medial prefrontal cortex in people with chronic pain, European Journal of Pain (2021). DOI: 10.1002/ejp.1838

Provided by University of New South Wales

Human Screams Communicate at Least Six Emotions (Biology)

Human screams signal more than fear and are more acoustically diverse than previously thought, according to a study published April 13th 2021 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Sascha Fruhholz of the University of Zurich, and colleagues. Remarkably, non-alarming screams are perceived and processed by the brain more efficiently than alarming screams.

In nonhuman primates and other mammalian species, scream-like calls are frequently used as an alarm signal exclusively in negative contexts, such social conflicts or the presence of predators or other environmental threats. Humans are also assumed to use screams to signal danger and to scare predators. But humans scream not only when they are fearful and aggressive, but also when they experience other emotions such as despair and elation. Past studies on this topic largely focused on alarming fear screams, so the broader significance of various scream types has not been clear. In the new study, the researchers addressed this knowledge gap using four different psychoacoustic, perceptual decision-making, and neuroimaging experiments in humans.

Twelve participants were asked to vocalize positive and negative screams that might be elicited by various situations. A different group of individuals rated the emotional nature of the screams, classified the screams into different categories, and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while listening to the screams.

The results revealed six psycho-acoustically distinct types of scream calls, which indicated pain, anger, fear, pleasure, sadness, and joy. Perhaps surprisingly, listeners responded more quickly and accurately, and with higher neural sensitivity, to non-alarm and positive scream calls than to alarming screams. Specifically, less alarming screams elicited more activity across many auditory and frontal brain regions. According to the authors, these findings show that scream calls are more diverse in their signaling and communicative nature in humans than frequently assumed.

Dr. Fruhholz notes “The results of our study are surprising in a sense that researchers usually assume the primate and human cognitive system to be specifically tuned to detect signals of danger and threat in the environment as a mechanism of survival. This has long been supposed to be the primary purpose of communicative signaling in screams. While this seems true for scream communication in primates and other animal species, scream communication seemed to have largely diversified in humans, and this represents is a major evolutionary step. Humans share with other species the potential to signal danger when screaming, but it seems like only humans scream to signal also positive emotions like extreme joy and pleasure. Signaling and perceiving these positive emotions in screams seemed to have gained priority in humans over alarm signaling. This change in priority might be likely due to the requirements of evolved and complex social contexts in humans.”

Funding: This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF PP00P1_157409/1 and PP00P1_183711/1 to SF). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Reference: Frühholz S, Dietziker J, Staib M, Trost W (2021) Neurocognitive processing efficiency for discriminating human non-alarm rather than alarm scream calls. PLoS Biol 19(4): e3000751. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000751  http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000751

Provided by Plos

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts: People With Mind-blindness Not So Easily Spooked (Psychology)

The link between mental imagery and emotions may be closer than we thought.

People with aphantasia – that is, the inability to visualise mental images – are harder to spook with scary stories, a new UNSW Sydney study shows. 

The study, published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, tested how aphantasic people reacted to reading distressing scenarios, like being chased by a shark, falling off a cliff, or being in a plane that’s about to crash.

The researchers were able to physically measure each participant’s fear response by monitoring changing skin conductivity levels – in other words, how much the story made a person sweat. This type of test is commonly used in psychology research to measure the body’s physical expression of emotion. 

According to the findings, scary stories lost their fear factor when the readers couldn’t visually imagine the scene – suggesting imagery may have a closer link to emotions than scientists previously thought.

“We found the strongest evidence yet that mental imagery plays a key role in linking thoughts and emotions,” says Professor Joel Pearson, senior author on the paper and Director of UNSW Science’s Future Minds Lab

“In all of our research to date, this is by far the biggest difference we’ve found between people with aphantasia and the general population.”

Finding yourself trapped in a room full of spiders – and feeling them slowly crawl over you – was one of the scary stories used in the experiment. Photo: Unsplash.

To test the role of visual imagery in fear, the researchers guided 46 study participants (22 with aphantasia, and 24 with imagery) to a blackened room before attaching several electrodes to their skin. Skin is known to become a better conductor of electricity when a person feels strong emotions, like fear.

The scientists then left the room and turned the light off, leaving the participants alone as a story started to appear in the screen in front of them.  

At first, the stories started innocuously – for example, ‘You are at the beach, in the water’ or ‘You’re on a plane, by the window’. But as the stories continued, the suspense slowly built, whether it was a dark flash in the distant waves and people on the beach pointing, or the cabin lights dimming as the plane starts to shake. 

“Skin conductivity levels quickly started to grow for people who were able to visualise the stories,” says Prof Pearson. “The more the stories went on, the more their skin reacted.

“But for people with aphantasia, the skin conductivity levels pretty much flatlined.”

To check that differences in fear thresholds didn’t cause the response, the experiment was repeated using a series of scary images instead of text, like a photo of a cadaver or a snake bearing its fangs.

But this time, the pictures made the skin crawl equally in both groups of people.

“These two sets of results suggest that aphantasia isn’t linked to reduced emotion in general, but is specific to participants reading scary stories,” says Prof. Pearson. “The emotional fear response was present when participants actually saw the scary material play out in front of them.

“The findings suggest that imagery is an emotional thought amplifier. We can think all kind of things, but without imagery, the thoughts aren’t going to have that emotional ‘boom’.”

Do you want to hear a scary story? Photo: Shutterstock

Living with aphantasia

Aphantasia affects 2-5 per cent of the population, but there is still very little known about the condition. 

A UNSW study published last year found that aphantasia is linked to a widespread pattern of changes to other cognitive processes, like remembering, dreaming and imagining.

But while most previous aphantasia research focused on behavioural studies, this study used an objective measure of skin conductance.

“This evidence further supports aphantasia as a unique, verifiable phenomenon,” says study co-author Dr Rebecca Keogh, a postdoctoral fellow formerly of UNSW and now based at Macquarie University.

“This work may provide a potential new objective tool which could be used to help to confirm and diagnose aphantasia in the future.”

The idea for this experiment came after the research team noticed a recurring sentiment on aphantasia discussion boards that many people with the condition didn’t enjoy reading fiction.

While the findings suggest that reading may not be as emotionally impactful for people with aphantasia, Prof. Pearson says it’s important to note that the findings are based on averages, and not everyone with aphantasia will have the same reading experience. 

The study was also focused on fear, and other emotional responses to fiction could be different.

While some people with aphantasia only experience a lack of visual imagery, others also have trouble imagining other senses, like sounds, tastes, and touch. Photo: Unsplash.

“Aphantasia comes in different shapes and sizes,” he says. “Some people have no visual imagery, while other people have no imagery in one or all of their other senses. Some people dream while others don’t.

“So don’t be concerned if you have aphantasia and don’t fit this mould. There are all kinds of variations to aphantasia that we’re only just discovering.”

Next, Prof. Pearson and his team at the Future Minds Lab plan to investigate how disorders like anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder might be experienced differently by people with aphantasia.

“Aphantasia is neural diversity,” says Prof. Pearson. “It’s an amazing example of how different our brain and minds can be.”

Featured image: It turns out seeing really is believing when it comes to scary stories. Photo: Unsplash.

Reference: “The critical role of mental imagery in human emotion: insights from fear-based imagery and aphantasia”,
Marcus Wicken, Rebecca Keogh and Joel Pearson, Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Published:10 March 2021. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0267

Provided by University of New South Wales

How Does Your Brain Process Emotions? Answer Could Help Address Loneliness Epidemic (Neuroscience)

Study finds specific brain regions respond opposingly to emotions related to loneliness and wisdom

Research over the last decade has shown that loneliness is an important determinant of health. It is associated with considerable physical and mental health risks and increased mortality. Previous studies have also shown that wisdom could serve as a protective factor against loneliness. This inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom may be based in different brain processes.

In a study published in the March 5, 2021 online edition of Cerebral Cortex, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that specific regions of the brain respond to emotional stimuli related to loneliness and wisdom in opposing ways.

“We were interested in how loneliness and wisdom relate to emotional biases, meaning how we respond to different positive and negative emotions,” said Jyoti Mishra, PhD, senior author of the study, director of the NEATLabs and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The study involved 147 participants, ages 18 to 85. The subjects performed a simple cognitive task of determining which direction an arrow was pointed while faces with different emotions were presented in the background.

Dilip Jeste, MD, is senior author of the study, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine. © UC San Diego Health Sciences

“We found that when faces emoting anger were presented as distractors, they significantly slowed simple cognitive responses in lonelier individuals. This meant that lonelier individuals paid more attention to threatening stimuli, such as the angry faces.”

“For wisdom, on the other hand, we found a significant positive relationship for response speeds when faces with happy emotions were shown, specifically individuals who displayed wiser traits, such as empathy, had speedier responses in the presence of happy stimuli.”

Electroencephalogram (EEG)-based brain recordings showed that the part of the brain called the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) was activating differently in lonelier versus wiser individuals. TPJ is important for processing theory of mind, or the degree of capacity for empathy and understanding of others. The study found it more active in the presence of angry emotions for lonelier people and more active in the presence of happy emotions for wiser people.

Researchers also noted greater activity to threatening stimuli for lonelier individuals in the left superior parietal cortex, the brain region important for allocating attention, while wisdom was significantly related to enhanced happy emotion-driven activity in the left insula of the brain, responsible for social characteristics like empathy.

“This study shows that the inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom that we found in our previous clinical studies is at least partly embedded in neurobiology and is not merely a result of subjective biases,” said study author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“These findings are relevant to the mental and physical health of individuals because they give us an objective neurobiological handle on how lonelier or wiser people process information,” said Mishra. “Having biological markers that we can measure in the brain can help us develop effective treatments. Perhaps we can help answer the question, ‘Can you make a person wiser or less lonely?’ The answer could help mitigate the risk of loneliness.”

The authors say next steps include a longitudinal study and an intervention study.

“Ultimately, we think these evidence-based cognitive brain markers are the key to developing better health care for the future that may address the loneliness epidemic,” said Mishra.

Co-authors include: Gillian Grennan, Pragathi Priyadharsini Balasubramani, Fahad Alim, Mariam Zafar-Khan, UC San Diego; and Ellen Lee, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

Featured image: Jyoti Mishra, PhD, is the senior author of the study, director of the NEATLabs and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. © UC San Diego Health Sciences

Reference: Gillian Grennan, Pragathi Priyadharsini Balasubramani, Fahad Alim, Mariam Zafar-Khan, Ellen E Lee, Dilip V Jeste, Jyoti Mishra, Cognitive and Neural Correlates of Loneliness and Wisdom during Emotional Bias, Cerebral Cortex, 2021;, bhab012, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhab012

Provided by University of California San Diego

Scientists Propose New Way to Detect Emotions Using Wireless Signals (Engineering)

A novel artificial intelligence (AI) approach based on wireless signals could help to reveal our inner emotions, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, demonstrates the use of radio waves to measure heartrate and breathing signals and predict how someone is feeling even in the absence of any other visual cues, such as facial expressions.

Participants were initially asked to watch a video selected by researchers for its ability to evoke one of four basic emotion types; anger, sadness, joy and pleasure. Whilst the individual was watching the video the researchers then emitted harmless radio signals, like those transmitted from any wireless system including radar or WiFi, towards the individual and measured the signals that bounced back off them.

By analysing changes to these signals caused by slight body movements, the researchers were able to reveal information about an individual’s heart and breathing rates.

Deep learning approaches

Previous research has used similar non-invasive or wireless methods of emotion detection, however in these studies data analysis has depended on the use of classical machine learning approaches, whereby an algorithm is used to identify and classify emotional states within the data.

For this study the scientists instead employed deep learning techniques, where an artificial neural network learns its own features from time-dependent raw data, and showed that this approach could detect emotions more accurately than traditional machine learning methods.

Achintha Avin Ihalage, a PhD student at Queen Mary, said: “Deep learning allows us to assess data in a similar way to how a human brain would work looking at different layers of information and making connections between them. Most of the published literature that uses machine learning measures emotions in a subject-dependent way, recording a signal from a specific individual and using this to predict their emotion at a later stage.

“With deep learning we’ve shown we can accurately measure emotions in a subject-independent way, where we can look at a whole collection of signals from different individuals and learn from this data and use it to predict the emotions of people outside of our training database.”

Detecting emotions

Traditionally, emotion detection has relied on the assessment of visible signals such as facial expressions, speech, body gestures or eye movements. However, these methods can be unreliable as they do not effectively capture an individual’s internal emotions and researchers are increasingly looking towards ‘invisible’ signals, such as ECG to understand emotions.

ECG signals detect electrical activity in the heart, providing a link between the nervous system and heart rhythm. However the measurement of these signals has largely been performed using sensors that are placed on the body and recently researchers have been looking towards non-invasive approaches that use radio waves to detect emotions instead.

Wider implications

Methods to detect human emotions are often used by researchers involved in psychological or neuroscientific studies but it is thought that these approaches could also have wider implications for the management of health and wellbeing.

Ahsan Noor Khan, a PhD student at Queen Mary and first author of the study, said: “Being able to detect emotions using wireless systems is a topic of increasing interest for researchers as it offers an alternative to bulky sensors and could be directly applicable in future ‘smart’ home and building environments. In this study, we’ve built on existing work using radio waves to detect emotions and show that the use of deep learning techniques can improve the accuracy of our results.”

“We’re now looking to investigate how we could use low-cost existing systems, such as WiFi routers, to detect emotions of a large number of people gathered, for instance in an office or work environment. This type of approach would enable us to classify emotions of people on individual basis while performing routine activities. Moreover, we aim to improve the accuracy of emotion detection in a work environment using advanced deep learning techniques.”

Professor Yang Hao, Professor of Antennas and Electromagnetics at Queen Mary and the project lead, said: “This research opens up many opportunities for practical applications, especially in areas such as human/robot interaction and healthcare and emotional wellbeing, which has become increasingly important during the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

Whilst this study shows this approach can be used to detect emotions any large-scale deployment would need to consider other social and ethical concerns, including data protection. Professor Yang Hao, added: “In the past, similar approaches have been used for identifying human physiological data, which has been widely used in body-centric wireless communications and wearable/implantable sensors for healthcare monitoring. Having a secured network to protect users’ privacy is essential, just like many other wireless technologies.” 

In the future, the research team plan to work with healthcare professionals and social scientists on public acceptance and ethical concerns around the use of this technology.

Featured image: Happy and sad symbols on wooden blocks. Credit: Chaiwiwat Duangjinda/iStock.com

More information 

Provided by Queensmary University of London

How Does Pain Experienced in Everyday Life Impact Memory? (Neuroscience)

A new study indicates that brain systems related to emotional distress could underlie the negative impacts of pain on memory in healthy individuals.

How do the normal pains of everyday life, such as headaches and backaches, influence our ability to think? Recent studies suggest that healthy individuals in pain also show deficits in working memory, or the cognitive process of holding and manipulating information over short periods of time. Prior research suggests that pain-related impairments in working memory depend on an individual’s level of emotional distress. Yet the specific brain and psychological factors underlying the role of emotional distress in contributing to this relationship are not well understood.

A new study, titled “Modeling neural and self-reported factors of affective distress in the relationship between pain and working memory in healthy individuals,” and published in the journal Neuropsychologia sought to address this gap in the literature. The study was authored by recent University of Miami psychology Ph.D. graduate students Steven Anderson, Joanna Witkin, and Taylor Bolt and their advisors Elizabeth Losin, director of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Miami; Maria Llabre, professor and associate chair of the Department of Psychology; and Claire Ashton-James, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney.

The study used publicly available brain imaging and self-report data from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), a large-scale project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which aims to construct a map of the complete structural and functional connections in the healthy human brain. Brain imaging and self-report data from 416 HCP participants were analyzed using structural equation modeling (SEM), a statistical technique for modeling complex relationships between multiple variables. In the 228 participants who reported experiencing some level of pain in the 7 days prior to the study, the authors found that higher pain intensity was directly associated with worse performance a commonly used test of working memory, the n-back task. In the n-back task, participants are shown a series of letters and asked whether the letter they are seeing appeared some number of screens previously. The more screens back in the sequence participants are asked to recall, the more working memory is required.

In addition, the authors found that higher pain intensity was indirectly associated with worse working memory performance through increased activity in a particular region in the center of the frontal cortex during the n-back task, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The vmPFC is a brain region involved in pain, affective distress, and cognition. Interestingly, the relationship between everyday pain and vmPFC brain activity in this study is similar to prior findings in patients with chronic pain.

“We found that healthy participants with even low levels of reported pain had different levels of activity in the vmPFC during the n-back task compared to healthy participants who didn’t report pain. Surprisingly, this pattern of activity was more similar to patients with chronic pain than healthy patients who are exposed to pain manipulations in a laboratory,” said Witkin.

In contrast, the authors found that certain aspects of emotional distress reported by participants, such as anger, fear, and perceived stress, were not associated with working memory performance.

“Studies looking at the relationship between pain and cognition have typically focused on patients with chronic pain or research participants given experimentally-induced pain,” noted Anderson. “Even though pain is a common experience for many people, we know surprisingly little about how the everyday experience of pain impacts cognition.”

Using the publicly available HCP dataset allowed the researchers to include data from a much larger group of participants than is typical in brain imaging studies due to the high cost of brain scans. This large sample enabled authors to use structural equation modeling, a statistical technique that allows for the understanding of complex relationships between multiple variables that in this case may help explain how pain decreases working memory. The authors note that their findings have potential implications in both clinical and non-clinical settings.

“This study highlights the real impact that pain can have on our ability to think even in healthy people, and points how this may come about in the brain,” said Losin.

Reference: Steven R. Anderson, Joanna E. Witkin, Taylor Bolt, Maria M. Llabre, Claire E. Ashton-James, Elizabeth A. Reynolds Losin, “Modeling neural and self-reported factors of affective distress in the relationship between pain and working memory in healthy individuals”, Neuropsychologia, 2021, 107766, ISSN 0028-3932,

Provided by University of Miami

Why You Recognize Someone Years Later You Only Met Once? (Psychology)

Research reveals how we recall distinctive features and emotional cues

Have you ever met someone and somehow, recognized them many years later? What was it about their appearance that struck such a chord? Some people joke that when they attend their high school reunions, they feel lost in a sea of strangers, only to suddenly recognize a classmate they hardly knew. Why?

True, some people are more visually memorable than others. Researchers note that we often remember beauty, but we also remember distinctiveness. El Haj Mohamad and André Ndobo (2020), in a study investigating destination memory (remembering information previously relayed), cited prior research finding people tended to remember both attractive and unattractive faces, suggesting that the extremes “are characterized by distinctive features” that enable facial recognition.[i]

But apparently, emotion plays a role as well. Robert G. Franklin, Jr. and Reginald B. Adams Jr. (2010) in a study aptly named “What Makes a Face Memorable?” examined the relationship between the memory of faces and emotional states.[ii] They began by noting that face processing models indicate the existence of a “neural and functional dissociation” between the ability to process facial identity and expressiveness. They suggest this might explain the “uncharted territory” of inquiry regarding the relationship between deciphering emotion from expressive cues and using appearance cues to remember faces.

Other research suggests that when it comes to remembering people, in some ways, less is more.

Natural is Notable

Diana S. Cortes et al. (2017) investigated how memory for both faces and voices, presented both separately and in combination, varies based on sex as well as expression of emotion, including anger, fear, disgust, sadness, happiness, and neutral.[iii] Their results, from 600 participants, showed that the accuracy rate was consistently higher for neutral conditions as compared to emotional conditions, and also that accuracy for specific emotions were varied across the modalities of presentation (faces, voices, or combinations of face-voice).

Regarding a subjective sense of recollection, it was the neutral items that received the highest rates for faces, and for voice and face-voice combinations, anger and fear expressions received the highest rates of recollection. Among other findings related to own-sex bias, they conclude that remembering faces and voices may be impacted by both expression and sex. Regarding emotion, they found that emotional expression may enhance the subjective sense of recollection, without increasing the accuracy of memory.

Cortes et al. reveal that although we might think that emotional expressions facilitate social memory, this will not always be true. Testing several categories together, they instead observed higher memory accuracy for stimuli that were neutral, rather than emotional. And regarding emotions, they found higher memory accuracy for certain emotions than for others, which suggests that emotional stimuli are processed differently. For example, they found that memory accuracy was higher for happiness and fear, as compared to other nonneutral expressions, although they also noted that accuracy regarding specific emotions differed across modalities of presentation.

Regarding the explanation for their results, Cortes et al. suggest that high accuracy rates for expressions of happiness might be explained by attentional biases toward stimuli that are pro-social, signaling approval and approachability. They note that on the other hand, expressions of fear may be associated with a perceived threat to wellbeing and indeed even survival, and may therefore warrant priority in processing due to adaptive significance.

Selective Memory is Subjective

Despite the many ways in which we apparently remember faces, sometimes years later, we also remember people because of the way they made us feel—regardless of what they look like. Encouraging words, edifying conversation, and affirmation can make us more positively memorable than the most striking features or flamboyant attire. It is also the way most people want to be remembered.

Featured image credit: Bessi from pixabay

References: [i] El Haj, Mohamad, and André Ndobo. 2020. “Attractive Memory: High Destination Memory for Attractive Faces.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, July. doi:10.1111/sjop.12657. [ii] Franklin, Robert G., Jr., and Reginald B. Adams Jr. 2010. “What Makes a Face Memorable? The Relationship between Face Memory and Emotional State Reasoning.” Personality and Individual Differences 49 (1): 8–12. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.031. [iii] Cortes, Diana S., Petri Laukka, Christina Lindahl, and Håkan Fischer. 2017. “Memory for Faces and Voices Varies as a Function of Sex and Expressed Emotion.” PLoS ONE 12 (6). https://search-ebscohost-com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2017-35035-001&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Copyright of this article totally belongs to Wendy L. Patrick, who is a career trial attorney, behavioral analyst, author of Red Flags, and co-author of Reading People. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Do You Often Feel Disappointed in Your Relationship? (Psychology)

There are bound to be times when your partner’s behavior falls short of expectations. Research on close relationships suggests what might be behind your constant disappointment.

You have high expectations for yourself and expectations that are as high, or higher, for your partner. In a close relationship, it’s natural to feel that you can count on your partner to be reliable, consistent, and responsive. You may also feel that your partner should agree with you, if not all, at least for some of the time. Whether it’s in your overall world view or in decisions about money, the children, or how to spend your time, you’ve come to believe that your partner will support you on most occasions.

It’s possible that you’ve also come to expect that your partner will see eye-to-eye with you regarding various social issues. Your partner may tend to be a little to the left or a little to the right of you, but there has always been a general acceptance of each other’s positions. Should you learn that your partner is taking the polar opposite side of your own position in the wake of the tumultuous first few weeks of 2021,  you could feel so dismayed that you wonder if you will ever again be able to come to any kind of mutual understanding and respect.

In general, that sense of disappointment in your partner can come from any source, not just current events. You could feel that your partner betrays you by not following the previously-agreed on set of household chores. Maybe your partner refuses to wear a facemask, spends too much on online shopping, no longer pays attention to healthy habits of eating or working out, or does nothing but play videogames, all behaviors you interpret as representing a rejection of your own values and priorities.

According to Ariel University’s Eliane Sommerfeld, writing in a 2019 article, “disappointment is one of the most frequent and intense emotions people experience in close relationships” (p. 1476). Yet, as common as it is to feel disappointed with a relationship partner, there’s surprisingly little research on the topic. Across a set of 4 studies, the Israeli researcher dug into the concept of close relationship disappointment, culminating in a 6-factor questionnaire which she then used to describe the personalities of the frequently let-down.

As Sommerfeld noted, there are two types of disappointments in close relationships. When you’re disappointed with an outcome, your reaction reflects your feeling that your expectation wasn’t met. For example, you might believe your sports team should have easily won a game for which they were heavily favored. When you’re disappointed in a relationship, your feeling of being let down falls into the category of what Sommerfeld calls “person-related disappointment.”

There are a host of unpleasant emotional reactions following person-related disappointment that don’t occur when it’s an outcome that fails to meet your expectations. When your partner lets you down, you open yourself up to feeling abandoned while also feeling that your partner is morally wrong. You’re also likely to feel disillusioned because it’s clear now that your partner isn’t living up to the standards you felt you both shared.  In the process, you might also try to distance yourself from your partner.

Although your feelings of being disappointed could have an objective basis (i.e. your partner really does violate your shared moral code), Sommerfeld notes that it’s also possible for you to be the kind of person who generally sees disappointment in many of your relationships. People high on the personality trait of neuroticism, according to this viewpoint, generally experience a range of negative emotions. Adding to this trait, the quality of insecure attachment can also come into play. You might be particularly sensitive to feelings of abandonment, and so are likely to define your partner’s deviation from your point of view to constitute a form of rejection of you as a person, not of your viewpoint.

Prior to developing the 6-factor disappointment measure, Sommerfeld first asked samples of undergraduate participants to describe events in which they were disappointed in their partner. This gave her a set of potential scenarios to use in the second study, in which she asked participants to respond based on the way they would feel if these events occurred to them. These responses allowed her to develop a set of items which she then subjected to statistical analysis. Finally, using the 6 scales, the Israeli researcher compared scores on the disappointment scales to measures of personality based on the Five Factor Model of neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, consciousness, and extraversion.

Turning now to the 6-factor scale, see how you would reply to these sample items regarding a recent disappointment with your own partner:

Overwhelming emotional distress: “I felt my world had collapsed.”

Distrust, hatred, and disgust toward the other: “I suddenly felt I didn’t care for that person.”

Astonishment with the other’s behavior: “I really could not understand how he/she could do that.”

Efforts toward forgiveness and reparation: “I tried to figure out how we could have good relations despite what happened.”

Concealment of emotions: “I tried not to show my feelings to others.”

Effort to generate positive thoughts and to overcome: “I tried to console myself and to accept what happened.“

The two “positive” factors, involving efforts to forgive and look on the bright side, stand out from the other 4 which reflect what you might regard as straight-up disappointment. The reason these positive factors were included was that, according to Sommerfeld, there can indeed be a push-pull aspect to disappointment when the other person involved is one to whom you’re generally positively attached. Of all the scales, astonishment received the highest average score, but respondents also scored relatively high on that last scale of trying to derive something positive from the experience.

With this general background in mind, you can now perhaps understand how personality might factor into the overall pattern of disappointment scores. People high on neuroticism, the tendency to experience negative emotions, were most likely to agree with the distress factor and least likely to be able to take something positive away from the experience. Those high in attachment anxiety and avoidance, additionally, were most likely to agree with items on the distress and distrust scales. Participants high in avoidance, furthermore, were most likely to try to conceal their emotion.

With those seemingly contradictory facets of disappointment as outrage and forgiveness, Sommerfeld notes that they may accurately reflect the very essence of disappointment with someone to whom you are close. As she states, “Undoubtedly, disappointment has the potential to be very emotionally confusing and challenging” (p. 1487). Yet, the fact that personality and attachment play into this response suggest that it’s not just one specific event that can trigger this internal confusion. You may, by virtue of your personality and typical feelings of relationship security, be particularly primed to be let down by your partner. At that point, you might ask whether it is indeed your partner letting you down, or whether this event has triggered your own anxieties and insecurities.

That disappointment-stimulating event, then, may have as much to do with your own representation of your relationship in your mind as with your partner’s actual behavior. To ease the process of overcoming the pain and moving on, the Israeli author suggests that you recognize the fact that disappointments are inevitable. Furthermore, you might also remind yourself that disappointment can indeed be a two-way street and it’s possible that you disappoint your partner more than you might care to admit.

To sum up, experiences within a close relationship can become ones that leave you feeling frustrated, annoyed, and abandoned. Learning to view disappointment as part of the cost of closeness can help you become a more understanding, if not forgiving, partner.

References: Sommerfeld, A. (2019). The experience of disappointment in the context of interpersonal relations: An exploration using a mixed method approach. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, Vol 38(6), 1476-1489. doi: 10.1007/s12144-017-9703-8 

This article is republished here psychology today under common creative licenses

Music-induced Emotions Can Be Predicted from Brain Scans (Neuroscience)

Researchers at the University of Turku have discovered what type of neural mechanisms are the basis for emotional responses to music. Altogether 102 research subjects listened to music that evokes emotions while their brain function was scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study was carried out in the national PET Centre.

The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to map which brain regions are activated when the different music-induced emotions are separated from each other.

– Based on the activation of the auditory and motor cortex, we were able to accurately predict whether the research subject was listening to happy or sad music. The auditory cortex processes the acoustic elements of music, such as rhythm and melody. Activation of the motor cortex, then again, may be related to the fact that music inspires feelings of movement in the listeners even when they are listening to music while holding still in an MRI machine, says Postdoctoral Researcher Vesa Putkinen.
The researchers also discovered which brain regions are activated when the research participants watched videos that evoke strong emotions, and tested whether the same regions were activated when the participants were listening to music that evokes emotions.

The results suggest that the emotions evoked by films and music are partially based on the operation of different mechanisms in the brain.

– Films, for instance, activate the deeper parts of the brain that regulate emotions in real-life situations. Listening to music did not strongly activate these regions nor did their activation separate the music-induced emotions from each other. This may be due to the fact that films can more realistically copy the real-life events that evoke emotions and thus activate the innate emotion mechanisms. As for the music-induced emotions, they are based on the acoustic characteristics of music and coloured by cultural influences and personal history.

Traditionally, music-induced emotions have been studied through classical instrumental music.

– We wanted to use only instrumental music in this study as well, so that lyrics did not impact the emotions of the research subjects. However, we included film music and songs by the guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen, notes Putkinen.

The video shows how the brains of a hundred volunteers react while listening to Far Beyond the Sun by Yngwie J. Malmsteen. https://youtu.be/uq3R-LmrC-k
> The study has been published in the Celebral Cortex journal.

> The research group is also conducting a study on music-induced emotions in the body. Participation is possible online.

Reference: Vesa Putkinen, Sanaz Nazari-Farsani, Kerttu Seppälä, Tomi Karjalainen, Lihua Sun, Henry K Karlsson, Matthew Hudson, Timo T Heikkilä, Jussi Hirvonen, Lauri Nummenmaa, Decoding Music-Evoked Emotions in the Auditory and Motor Cortex, Cerebral Cortex, , bhaa373, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhaa373

Provided by University of Turku