BEST OF 2014 // #78: Finding the seat of Emotion


In June, the Cornell University neuroscientist Adam Anderson’s group showed that while our emotions may seem special, our brains are transmitting them using a similar pattern of brain cell, or neuron, activation — meaning we all feel the same way. Scientists tracked the brain activity of 16 people when providing them with objects and tastes to identify the pattern; subjects then measured their feelings about each.

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The group saw that their brain cells were activated in a similar pattern as participants reported similar emotions. Participants expressed positive feelings when more neurons fired in one direction along the sequence; when more neurons fired in the other direction, negative feelings were reported. For example, gazing at a lovely sunset or sipping a favourite drink evoked the same firing in each person’s “good” direction.

This activity pattern runs through regions of the brain that process vision and taste, indicating that our subjective feelings are in fact intertwined with perception. That is, emotions preload our sensations. This upends the traditional belief that the brain first perceives emotions and then channels them in its psychological centres, according to Anderson.

Next, the team wants to investigate how this pattern occurs for people with mental disorders; with researchers expecting their findings could lead to better care.

There’s 99 more stories from 2014.  Check out the Best of 2014 series here

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