You Report Your Feelings In 3D
March 28, 2013

You Report Your Feelings In 3D

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

One of the hottest trends in Hollywood right now is toward 3D technology in new movies despite an ongoing debate about its merits. A new study published in Biological Psychiatry reveals that even our brains use three dimensions to communicate out feelings and emotions.

The report of emotions for humans relies on three distinct systems in the brain. The first system directs attention to affective states ("I feel"). The second system categorizes these affective states into words ("good," "bad," etc.). The third system relates the intensity of affective responses ("bad" or "awful").

No matter what emotion we are feeling — happy, sad, afraid or angry — those emotions are central to the human experience, and we are often asked to identify and report on these feelings. Reporting happens when friends ask us how we are doing, when we discuss personal or professional relationships, when we meditate, or any in number of daily situations. Making such reports is so commonplace and easy for most of us that we overlook their importance. We also tend to overlook how devastating the impairment of this ability may be for individuals with clinical disorders ranging from major depression to schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders.

Recent advances in brain science have shed much needed light on the circuits and processes that underlie our mood states. Dr. Kevin Ochsner, director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at Columbia University, is one of the leaders in this effort. Ochsner studies the neural basis of social, cognitive and affective processes.

The research team for this new study set out to understand the processes involved in constructing self-reports of emotion instead of the effects of the self-reports or the emotional states themselves, for which there already exists a great deal of research.

The study cohort consisted of healthy individuals who underwent brain scans while completing an experimental task that created a self-report of emotion. These scans allowed the researchers to look at the neural architecture underlying the emotional reports.

Dr. Ochsner explained, "We find that the seemingly simple ability is supported by three different kinds of brain systems: largely subcortical regions that trigger an initial affective response, parts of medial prefrontal cortex that focus our awareness on the response and help generate possible ways of describing what we are feeling, and a part of the lateral prefrontal cortex that helps pick the best words for the feelings at hand."

"These findings suggest that self-reports of emotion — while seemingly simple — are supported by a network of brain regions that together take us from an affecting event to the words that make our feelings known to ourselves and others," Ochsner continued. "As such, these results have important implications for understanding both the nature of everyday emotional life — and how the ability to understand and talk about our emotions can break down in clinical populations."

Dr. John Krystal, editor of“¯the journal Biological Psychiatry, commented on the importance of the new study.

"It is critical that we understand the mechanisms underlying the absorption in emotion, the valence of emotion, and the intensity of emotion. In the short run, appreciation of the distinct circuits mediating these dimensions of emotional experience helps us to understand how brain injury, stroke, and tumors produce different types of mood changes. In the long run, it may help us to better treat mood disorders."