There’s a fascinating article on a new brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists. The study question they addressed is: Why does putting our feelings into words — talking with a therapist or friend, writing in a journal — help us feel better?
The results of this study (supported by the National Institute of Mental Health) reveal that when people view a picture of an angry or fearful face, they show increased activity in a region of the brain called the amygdala (an alarm of sorts). Scientists see this same significant amygdala response even when they show such emotional photographs subliminally, for example, if they show them so fast that the person can’t even see them.
According to Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience, seeing an angry face and labeling it an angry face — will change our brain response and consequently, change the way we feel.
Here’s the science behind it:
According to Lieberman: “When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala. “The study showed that while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This region is located behind the forehead and eyes and has been associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences. It has also been implicated in inhibiting behavior and processing emotions, but exactly what it contributes has not been known.
Heres what they did:
“Thirty people, 18 women and 12 men between ages of 18 and 36, participated in Lieberman’s study at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. They viewed images of individuals making different emotional expressions. Below the picture of the face they either saw two words, such as “angry” and “fearful,” and chose which emotion described the face, or they saw two names, such as “Harry” and “Sally,” and chose the gender-appropriate name that matched the face.
‘When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala,” Lieberman said. “When you attach the name ‘Harry,’ you don’t see the reduction in the amygdala response.
‘When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala,” he said. “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”
As a result, an individual may feel less angry or less sad.”
This work is combining neuroscience with the Buddhist teachings from thousands of years ago.
“We found the more mindful you are, the more activation you have in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the less activation you have in the amygdala,”
Read the entire article. It makes a great deal of sense. Then, start labeling your emotions, talk about them, write about them. Then, go read a good book on mindfulness.