The brain has an extraordinary ability to recognize and respond to the emotional needs of others.
But it’s only when we become emotionally attached to a friend or loved one that we experience the emotional benefits of our actions.
Researchers at Stanford University have now found that our brains are also capable of recognizing emotions and understanding them.
The findings, published online today in Nature Neuroscience, could one day lead to better ways to help our friends and loved ones cope with life’s challenges.
“When we experience an emotional experience, the brain starts processing the emotion, whether it’s the fear of rejection, anger or sadness, and creates an internal representation of that emotion,” said Michael T. Osterholm, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior and lead author of the study.
“The emotion is actually processed and stored in the brain, and it’s then released to the rest of the body.”
Osterholm said that the findings could have a big impact on how we treat people with emotional and mental health issues.
“This is a fundamental way that our brain is able to generate an internal mental representation of our emotions,” he said.
“We’re able to do this in the context of an emotional encounter, and that could be useful in helping people deal with stressful situations.”
Ostersholm and his colleagues had already been studying brain activity during people’s reactions to emotionally distressing images.
One of the more well-known examples is when a person is fearful, angry or sad.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to look at the brain activity of two groups of participants when they viewed the same image of a sad face.
In one group, those participants who had previously experienced a sad image, such as a dog or a person holding a knife, showed a reduction in activity in their brain.
In another group, the participants who hadn’t experienced a stressful image, but had experienced the same negative emotion, showed an increase in activity.
“What we found was that people who had been previously fearful showed a decline in activity, and people who hadn`t experienced aversive events showed an increased activity,” said Osterhammer.
“This could suggest that people might be better able to process these emotions in a way that might help them cope.”
The study found that emotional experiences also affected how well the brain processed information from other information.
The participants who’d experienced a fearful image showed a more intense activity in areas associated with emotional memory, such the medial prefrontal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex.
The study was led by Andrew B. Mazzoli, a graduate student at Stanford.
“The findings are exciting because we`ve previously found that people`s emotional experiences, such an emotional scene, could be used to improve their performance in a task like the recognition task,” said Mazzol.
The findings could also help us better understand why we have certain emotions, such anger or fear, and what makes us so emotionally attached.
Osterhammer said that, like other studies, the results were based on functional magnetic signal imaging, or fMRI.
The technique is a technique that involves measuring the electrical activity of the brain using electrical pulses.
“We can actually look at how the brain processes these signals and figure out how we might be able to treat certain kinds of disorders, like anxiety and depression,” he added.
Ostershammer said the study was designed to provide evidence that people could be able, at least for a short period of time, to change their neural patterns of emotion, so they could better manage their emotional experiences.
“One of the big challenges in treating emotional problems is that we often have to work in isolation,” he noted.
“You might find that it`s a little difficult to engage people who might be experiencing problems, or they might feel isolated.
We want to change people` perception of their ability to do that.”
For the study, the Stanford team used functional MRI, which is used to examine the activity of neurons in the cerebral cortex.
FMRI is a more sophisticated technique that uses brain imaging technology to examine how neurons in different parts of the cortex work.
Oersholm and co-authors studied brain activity in a group of 20 volunteers.
They were able to compare brain activity to that of 20 people who didn’t know they were experiencing a fearful emotional scene.
“In other words, when we were testing them, we were measuring activity in the areas that are responsible for processing fear,” said study co-author Robert C. Zweig.
“It`s possible that some people have trouble processing fear, or it may be that there is something about the context that makes it difficult for them to do so.”
Zweig said that one of the key things the researchers were looking for was whether the participants with a negative experience showed reduced activity in regions associated with emotion memory.
“If we were able do that, then it could allow us to change how people` experience of their negative emotions might be treated,” he explained.
Zweigan added that one important factor