Tag Archives: #sadness

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

How to Release Sadness? (Psychology)

Did you ever have the feeling that you were sad and needed a good cry, but you couldn’t get the tears out? I certainly have.

Sadness is a natural adaptive response to loss. Losses like death, breakups, our children growing up, moving from a house, city, or country we called home, a broken or missing cherished object, and other kinds of losses, even election losses, are born from our wired-in capacity to love, connect, and emotionally attached to people, places, and things. Love and loss go hand in hand.

Living in an Emotion-Phobic Society

But sadness, like other emotions, gets a bad rap. Myths in modern society lead us to believe that emotions are for weak people and it’s best to “rise above them.” Stigmas surrounding emotions make us judge ourselves when we feel sad. We are told not to “wallow” or “be weak.” So most of us strive to push sadness away or suppress it with all sorts of clever maneuvers the brain, mind, and body can make to avoid emotional discomfort. These are the defenses on the Change Triangle.

In fact, sadness is a universal core emotion that all humans are wired to experience. We cannot stop the brain from triggering sadness in the body, where emotions live, even though we can stop our mind from experiencing sadness by suppressing it. When we deal (or more accurately not deal) with sadness by burying it, symptoms like anxiety, depression, numbness, or a nagging feeling of disconnection from one’s authentic self may result.

There is nothing weak about feeling sad. It’s as human as human can be. However, the lessons we learned about sadness from our families, communities, and cultures influence our relationship with this tender emotion. For example, if we were raised in families where it wasn’t safe to feel sad because we were criticized as being needy, we might judge our sadness and push it away. If we were overwhelmed by losses without enough emotional support from a “safe other” to usher us through our grief, we might push away sadness for fear of being overwhelmed again. Conversely, we might feel perfectly comfortable with sadness. Perhaps our parents accepted our sadness, gave us comfort, and made sense of the pain we were feeling. Or perhaps our parents or friends modeled that it was safe to feel sad by how they spoke about and demonstrated their own sadness.

It’s important to know that sadness, like any of the core emotions (anger, fear, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement), can be suppressed with inhibitory emotions like anxiety, guilt, or shame. Until I learned tools to understand my emotions, I felt only anxiety around death. Many of my patients also report feeling embarrassed by their sadness, afraid to feel it, and even that they look “ugly” when crying. How unfortunate! In fact, when we learn to let sadness flow, our anxiety, shame, guilt, and defense mechanisms (like addictions, perfectionism, judgment, obsessiveness, and many others) diminish because we no longer need to ward off sadness with inhibition and protective defenses.

Why We Cry?

Crying is one way we release sadness. And releasing core emotions, like sadness, is vital for our immediate and long-term emotional health. For those of us who struggle to get the tears out or who want to process sadness but find it hard, the following gentle “prescription” might help. If at any point something doesn’t feel right to you, just stop. It probably means you need a live, compassionate person to be with you. Nothing could be more natural.

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, author of the award-winning book, “It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self”, suggested Gentle Exercise to Release Sadness which is described below:

• Get very cozy and comfortable on your bed or chair.
• Bring a soft pillow, blanket, or pet to snuggle for comfort.
• Take five or six deep belly breaths: Breathing through your nose or mouth, imagine sending the air deep into the base of your abdomen, try to keep your chest from moving up, and instead let the air push your belly out like a buddha. Hold for a second so you feel the pressure of the air inside you. Then slowly release the air through pursed lips, like you’re blowing on hot soup. Tune into your body as you exhale and adjust the airflow so it feels maximally relaxing. It’s normal to feel a little dizzy as the inhale switches to the exhale. It’s also normal to feel your heartbeat speed up on the inhale. You will slow it down by the end of your nice long exhale. By the time you get to the 6th breath, you should feel much more relaxed. As you breathe, also try to notice the chair or bed against your body. Feel yourself weighted by gravity to feel connected to the chair or bed. This type of breathing is a life-long practice of knowing how to breathe in a way that feels most right for you. Deep belly breathing is a skill that helps us move through the full wave of our core emotions.

• Next, bring into your mind the loss you have experienced.
• Notice what changes in your body. Scan your body from head to toe as you breathe nice and easy, and see if you can find the sensations of sadness in your body. You might notice a heaviness in your chest, a lump in your throat, or a feeling behind your eyes. Or you might notice another sensation associated with sadness. There’s no right way. Whatever you feel is normal and natural for you.
• Stay with the sensations of sadness and breathe gently. You might start to feel the wave of sadness moving or building. Just deep belly breathe through it, noticing the sensations moving through you. If it feels too much, try dropping any thoughts or images in your mind and merely focus on the body sensations of sadness with a stance of curiosity and compassion towards yourself.
• Ride the wave of sadness, stay with it, allow yourself to cry until it is over and the wave ends. Stay breathing until you feel calmer.
• Finally, when you’re ready to move again and continue with your day or night, remember to treat yourself kindly and gently, like you would care for someone you loved.

Sometimes sadness cannot be processed because there are other emotions that first need tending. For example, losing a parent that we haven’t spoken to in years because they were too difficult, controlling, or hurtful, might bring up guilt, anger, shame, and more. If we had mixed or complicated feelings towards the object of our loss, sadness may be hard to process.

Allowing ourselves to cry when sad, either on our own or with someone else, is good for our emotional and physical health. Ignoring emotions leads to stress in the mind and body. If your sadness feels too overwhelming to experience on your own, AEDP psychotherapists or psychotherapists who are well-trained in helping people through big emotions will help. Painful as it can be to ride the wave of our sadness, that is precisely how we feel better sooner than later.

This article is originally written by Hilary Jacobs Hendel and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Grouch On, Grouches: Bad Moods Have Their Benefits (Psychology)

If you’re the type who groans when someone praises the power of positive thinking or glares when someone tells you to smile, we’ve got good news: Your rotten mood is a good thing. In some ways, it even makes you a better person than that coworker with the “don’t worry, be happy” bumper sticker. Now that’s something to sneer about.

In 2013, University of New South Wales psychology professor Joseph P. Forgas and his team published a review of the evidence for the benefits of negative thinking. In his introduction, they make some important points on the current state of grouchiness in society: “Although dysphoria” — angst and dissatisfaction, basically — “has always been with us and has stimulated many of the greatest achievements of the human spirit, our current cultural epoch is characterized by a unilateral emphasis on the benefits of happiness. Yet, negative mood remains an essential component of our affective repertoire, and experiences of temporary dysphoria have always been considered normal in previous historical periods.” If happiness is so great, he goes on, why has sadness played such a big part in so many works of art, music, and literature through the centuries?

The paper hit the positives of negativity shotgun-style: Bad moods keep you from relying as much on preexisting knowledge, which helps you avoid making hasty generalizations, stereotyping people, and making biased judgments. It also gives you a more accurate memory of past events: One study found that happy people were more likely to incorporate false or misleading details into their recollection of an incident than the malcontents were. Also, maybe unsurprisingly, curmudgeons are more skeptical, which is handy when it comes to judging the truth of myths and rumors and in sniffing out deception.

Rotten moods also give you more perseverance. A 2012 study by Forgas and his team found that when happy and sad people were asked to perform a demanding mental task for as long as they wanted, the sad people spent more time on the task, attempted more questions, and had more right answers — a result the researchers attribute to the idea that a bad mood tends to make people put more stock in their future achievements.

All these individual benefits are fine and all, but they don’t mean much if you can’t make any friends because you’re too busy complaining. Not so fast: Another review of the literature, this time a 2015 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, shows that bad feelings can bring people together. In the studies the paper analyzed, teams of people brought together to work on a project bonded and performed just as well when they all shared a negative mood as when they all felt positive — with a caveat. That negative mood only enhanced their work if it came from outside of a group (“The boss just won’t let us catch a break!” or “You’d think they’d fix the thermostat by now.”) When it came from inside of a group (“Why do you get all the fun work?”), it tended to make the group fall apart. So feel free to bask in those bad feelings. Just don’t take them out on everyone else.