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May 27, 2012
How Experiencing Strong Emotions Synchronizes The Brains Across Individuals


Research team at Aalto University and Turku PET Centre has revealed how experiencing strong emotions synchronizes brain activity across individuals.



Human emotions are highly contagious. Seeing others’ emotional expressions such as smiles triggers often the corresponding emotional response in the observer. Such synchronization of emotional states across individuals may support social interaction: When all group members share a common emotional state, their brains and bodies process the environment in a similar fashion.

Researchers at Aalto University and Turku PET Centre have now found that feeling strong emotions makes different individuals’ brain activity literally synchronous.

The results revealed that especially feeling strong unpleasant emotions synchronized brain’s emotion processing networks in the frontal and midline regions. On the contrary, experiencing highly arousing events synchronized activity in the networks supporting vision, attention and sense of touch.

-- Sharing others’ emotional states provides the observers a somatosensory and neural framework that facilitates understanding others’ intentions and actions and allows to ‘tune in’ or ‘sync’ with them. Such automatic tuning facilitates social interaction and group processes, says Adjunct Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from the Aalto University.

-- The results have major implications for current neural models of human emotions and group behaviour, but also deepen our understanding of mental disorders involving abnormal socioemotional processing, Nummenmaa says.

Participants’ brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they were viewing short pleasant, neutral and unpleasant movies.

The project was supported by the Academy of Finland and Aalto University (aivoAALTO-project).

The results were published on May 24th 2012 in scientific journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America (PNAS).


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