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Three Things to Know About Emotion and the Brain
A life coach, counselor, or therapist will help you process your emotions—which is, of course, something the brain is doing all the time. Peek into the science of feeling with Groupon’s exploration.
1. Emotions depend on both chemicals and context. In 1962, Stanley Schachter and Jerome E. Singer performed a study in which they injected subjects with epinephrine, a neurotransmitter that produces energy and excitation, then exposed them to a fellow “subject” (really an actor) behaving either angrily or euphorically. For subjects who hadn’t been informed of the epinephrine’s likely effects, this made a big difference: if they observed the “angry” subject, they were far more likely to attribute their own physiological reactions to anger.
2. Someone may know exactly how you feel. It’s a question that seems worthy of philosophy: when two people say they feel an emotion such as pleasure, can they be sure they’re feeling the same thing? A 2014 study by Cornell University neuroscientist Adam Anderson suggests they can. Subjects experiencing any similarly pleasant sensation, whether via their eyes or their tongues, displayed the same pattern of neural activity in their orbitofrontal cortices—a sort of code for positive emotion. That code remained consistent not just between different kinds of sensory inputs but between different subjects, and it changed in predictable ways as the input became less welcome.
3. You can forget and not forgive. Negative emotions—such as anger, fear, or the creepy sense that someone is examining your brain—can be reliably provoked by a stimulus that the conscious memory has long forgotten. In the early 20th century, psychologist Édouard Claparède treated an amnesiac patient who couldn’t sustain new memories for longer than a few minutes. One day, Claparède suddenly pricked her hand with a pin while “introducing” himself. Although he was again a stranger to her on their next meeting, she instinctively refused to shake his hand. Later experiments have found that the brain can record trauma beyond the reach of conscious memory in the amygdala, which then sends out warning signals whenever it perceives a familiar threat.