HEALTHY LIVING

Brain Activity Can Reveal Emotions, Study Finds

06/23/2013 10:38 am ET
Carnegie Mellon University

Scientists have found a way to determine what emotions you're feeling by looking at brain activity measured by imaging technology.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, are important to emotion research because they bring "a new method with potential to identify emotions without relying on people's ability to self-report," study researcher Karim Kassam, an assistant professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement. "It could be used to assess an individual's emotional response to almost any kind of stimulus, for example, a flag, a brand name or a political candidate."

For the study, researchers used a combination of brain imaging -- functional magnetic resonance imaging -- and machine learning. They recruited 10 actors from the university's drama school to act out different emotions, such as anger, happiness, pride and shame, while inside an fMRI scanner, for multiple times in random order.

To make sure that researchers were able to measure the actual emotions and not just the acting out of emotions, they had the study participants also look at emotion-eliciting images while undergoing FMRI brain scans.

"Despite manifest differences between people's psychology, different people tend to neurally encode emotions in remarkably similar ways," study researcher Amanda Markey, a graduate student in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at the university, said in a statement.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Colorado in Boulder found a way to distinguish between physical pain in the brain from emotional pain, TIME reported. Those findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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