Tag Archives: #prespective

Using a Video Game to Understand The Origin of Emotions (Neuroscience)

Emotions are complex phenomena that influence our minds, bodies and behavior. A number of studies have sought to connect given emotions, such as fear or pleasure, to specific areas of the brain, but without success. Some theoretical models suggest that emotions emerge through the coordination of multiple mental processes triggered by an event. These models involve the brain orchestrating adapted emotional responses via the synchronization of motivational, expressive and visceral mechanisms.

The transient synchronization between the different emotional components corresponds to an emotional state. Credit: UNIGE/LEITAO

To investigate this hypothesis, a research team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) studied brain activity using functional MRI. They analyzed the feelings, expressions and physiological responses of volunteers while they were playing a video game that had been specially developed to arouse different emotions depending on the progress of the game. The results, published in the journal PLOS Biology, show that different emotional components recruit several neural networks in parallel distributed throughout the brain, and that their transient synchronization generates an emotional state. The somatosensory and motor pathways are two of the areas involved in this synchronization, thereby validating the idea that emotion is grounded in action-oriented functions in order to allow an adapted response to events.

Most studies use passive stimulation to understand the emergence of emotions: they typically present volunteers with photos, videos or images evoking fear, anger, joy or sadness while recording the cerebral response using electroencephalography or imaging. The goal is to pinpoint the specific neural networks for each emotion. “The problem is, these regions overlap for different emotions, so they’re not specific,” begins Joana Leitão, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Fundamental Neurosciences (NEUFO) in UNIGE’s Faculty of Medicine and at the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences (CISA). “What’s more, it’s likely that, although these images represent emotions well, they don’t evoke them.”

A question of perspective

Several neuroscientific theories have attempted to model the emergence of an emotion, although none has so far been proven experimentally. The UNIGE research team subscribe to the postulate that emotions are “subjective”: two individuals faced with the same situation may experience a different emotion. “A given event is not assessed in the same way by each person because the perspectives are different,” continues Dr. Leitão.

In a theoretical model known as the component process model (CPM) – devised by Professor Klaus Scherer, the retired founding director of CISA- an event will generate multiple responses in the organism. These relate to components of cognitive assessment (novelty or concordance with a goal or norms), motivation, physiological processes (sweating or heart rate), and expression (smiling or shouting). In a situation that sets off an emotional response, these different components influence each other dynamically. It is their transitory synchronization that might correspond to an emotional state.

Emotional about Pacman

The Geneva neuroscientists devised a video game to evaluate the applicability of this model. “The aim is to evoke emotions that correspond to different forms of evaluation,” explains Dr. Leitão. “Rather than viewing simple images, participants play a video game that puts them in situations they’ll have to evaluate so they can advance and win rewards.” The game is an arcade game that is similar to the famous Pacman. Players have to grab coins, touch the “nice monsters,” ignore the “neutral monsters” and avoid the “bad guys” to win points and pass to the next level.

The scenario involves situations that trigger the four components of the CPM model differently. At the same time, the researchers were able to measure brain activity via imaging; facial expression by analyzing the zygomatic muscles; feelings via questions; and physiology by skin and cardiorespiratory measurements. “All of these components involve different circuits distributed throughout the brain,” says the Geneva-based researcher. “By cross-referencing the imagery data with computational modeling, we were able to determine how these components interact over time and at what point they synchronize to generate an emotion.”

A made-to-measure emotional response

The results also indicate that a region deep in the brain called the basal ganglia is involved in this synchronization. This structure is known as a convergence point between multiple cortical regions, each of which is equipped with specialized affective, cognitive or sensorimotor processes. The other regions involve the sensorimotor network, the posterior insula and the prefrontal cortex. “The involvement of the somatosensory and motor zones accords with the postulate of theories that consider emotion as a preparatory mechanism for action that enables the body to promote an adaptive response to events,” concludes Patrik Vuilleumier, full professor at NEUFO and senior author of the study.

Reference: Joana Leitão et al, Computational imaging during video game playing shows dynamic synchronization of cortical and subcortical networks of emotions, PLOS Biology (2020). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000900 https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000900

Provided by University of Geneva

Empathy And Perspective Taking: How Social Skills are Built (Psychology)

Understanding what other people want, how they feel, and how they see the world is becoming increasingly important in our complex, globalised society. Social skills enable us to make friends and create a network of people who support us. But not everyone finds it easy to interact with other people. One of the main reasons is that two of the most important social skills – empathy, i.e. being able to empathise with the other person’s emotions, and the ability to take a perspective, i.e. being able to gain an information by adopting another person’s point of view – are developed to different degrees.

Researchers have long been trying to find out what helps one to understand others. The more you know about these two social skills, the better you can help people to form social relationships. However, it still not exactly clear what empathy and perspective taking are (the latter is also known as “theory of mind”). Being able to read a person’s emotions through their eyes, understand a funny story, or interpret the action of another person–in everyday life there are always social situations that require these two important abilities. However, they each require a combination of different individual subordinate skills. If it is necessary to interpret looks and facial expressions in one situation, in another it may be necessary to think along with the cultural background of the narrator or to know his or her current needs.

To date, countless studies have been conducted that examine empathy and perspective taking as a whole. However, it has not yet been clarified what constitutes the core of both competencies and where in the brain their bases lie. Philipp Kanske, former MPI CBS research group leader and currently professor at the TU Dresden, together with Matthias Schurz from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and an international team of researchers, have now developed a comprehensive explanatory model.

“Both of these abilities are processed in the brain by a ‘main network’ specialised in empathy or changing perspective, which is activated in every social situation. But, depending on the situation, it also involves additional networks,” Kanske explains, referring to the results of the study, which has just been published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. If we read the thoughts and feelings of others, for example, from their eyes, other additional regions are involved than if we deduce them from their actions or from a narrative. “The brain is thus able to react very flexibly to individual requirements.”

For empathy, a main network that can recognise acutely significant situations, for example, by processing fear, works together with additional specialised regions, for example, for face or speech recognition. When changing perspective, in turn, the regions that are also used for remembering the past or fantasising about the future, i.e., for thoughts that deal with things that cannot be observed at the moment, are active as the core network. Here too, additional brain regions are switched on in each concrete situation.

Through their analyses, the researchers have also found out that particularly complex social problems require a combination of empathy and a change of perspective. People who are particularly competent socially seem to view the other person in both ways­–­on the basis of feelings and on the basis of thoughts. In their judgement, they then find the right balance between the two.

“Our analysis also shows, however, that a lack of one of the two social skills can also mean that not this skill as a whole is limited. It may be that only a certain factor is affected, such as understanding facial expressions or speech melody,” adds Kanske. A single test is therefore not sufficient to certify a person’s lack of social skills. Rather, there must be a series of tests to actually assess them as having little empathy, or as being unable to take the other person’s point of view.

The scientists have investigated these relationships by means of a large-scale meta-analysis. They identified, on the one hand, commonalities in the MRI pattern of the 188 individual studies examined when the participants used empathy or perspective taking. This allowed the localisation of the core regions in the brain for each of the two social skills. However, results also indicated how the MRI patterns differed depending on the specific task and, therefore, which additional brain regions were used.

References : http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000303

Provided by Max Planck Institute For Human Cognitive and Brian