CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Scientists Can Identify Emotions Through Brain Activity

iStock
iStock

Scientists can’t yet read your mind, but they might be able to identify when you’re in emotional pain. In a new study published in PLOS Biology, psychology researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of Pittsburgh report being able to identify the intensity of a negative emotional reaction via the patterns of brain activity with 93 percent accuracy.

More than 180 participants of various ages looked at images designed to elicit negative emotional reactions in the lab (images of injuries, car wrecks, piles of poop, etc.). Another 30 participants received pain stimulation from heat in order to differentiate the brain’s response to physical and emotional pain. The researchers then used a portion of the fMRI scans of these subjects’ brains to create an algorithm that could predict the intensity of the participants’ pain by identifying a distinct pattern of neuron activation.

In tests, this algorithm was able to predict the intensity of the participants’ emotions with a 93 percent accuracy compared to a self-reported survey of their emotional state (a simple numbered scale where 1 indicated neutral feelings and 5 indicated strong negative feelings). The algorithm could also distinguish between physical and emotional pain with 92 percent accuracy.

While less than 200 people is not quite enough to create a definitive neurological illustration of emotional pain, it can provide important data about how the brain processes emotions. “Emotions are central to our daily lives and emotional dysregulation is at the heart of many brain- and body-related disorders, but we don't have a clear understanding of how emotions are processed in the brain,” says lead author Luke Chang, previously a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado and now an assistant professor at Dartmouth. “Thus, understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that generate and reduce negative emotional experiences is paramount.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
arrow
fun
Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
literature
Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
iStock
iStock

Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios