Chapter 11. Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
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By Deborah Serani Sometimes I work with children and adults who can’t put words to their feelings and thoughts. It’s not that they don’t want to – it’s more that they don’t know how. The clinical term for this experience is alexithymia and is defined as the inability to recognize emotions and their subtleties and textures . Alexithymia throws a monkey wrench into a person’s ability to know their own self-experience or understand the intricacies of what others feel and think. Here are a few examples those with alexithymia experience: Difficulty identifying different types of feelings Limited understanding of what causes feelings Difficulty expressing feelings Difficulty recognizing facial cues in others Limited or rigid imagination Constricted style of thinking Hypersensitive to physical sensations Detached or tentative connection to others Alexithymia was first mentioned as a psychological construct in 1976 and was viewed as a deficit in emotional awareness . Research suggests that approximately 8% of males and 2% of females experience alexithymia, and that it can come in mild, moderate and severe intensities . Studies also show that alexithymia has two dimensions – a cognitive dimension, where a child or adult struggles to identify, interpret and verbalize feelings (the “thinking” part of our emotional experience). And an affective dimension, where difficulties arise in reacting, expressing, feeling and imagining (the “experiencing” part of our emotional experience) . © 2014 Scientific American
David Adam The day the Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna died in a crash, I was stuck in the toilet of a Manchester swimming pool. The door was open, but my thoughts blocked the way out. It was May 1994. I was 22 and hungry. After swimming a few lengths of the pool, I had lifted myself from the water and headed for the locker rooms. Going down the steps, I had scraped the back of my heel on the sharp edge of the final step. It left a small graze through which blood bulged into a blob that hung from my broken skin. I transferred the drop to my finger and a second swelled to take its place. I pulled a paper towel from above the sink to press to my wet heel. The blood on my finger ran with the water as it dripped down my arm. My eyes followed the blood. And the anxiety, of course, rushed back, ahead even of the memory. My shoulders sagged. My stomach tightened. Four weeks earlier, I had pricked my finger on a screw that stuck out from a bus shelter's corrugated metal. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and there had been lots of people around. Any one of them, I thought, could easily have injured themselves in the way I had. What if one had been HIV positive? They could have left infected blood on the screw, which then pierced my skin. That would put the virus into my bloodstream. I knew the official line was that transmission was impossible this way – the virus couldn't survive outside the body – but I also knew that, when pressed for long enough, those in the know would weaken the odds to virtually impossible. They couldn't be absolutely sure. In fact, several had admitted to me there was a theoretical risk. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited
Keyword: OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Link ID: 19447 - Posted: 04.05.2014
By NATALIE ANGIER The “Iliad” may be a giant of Western literature, yet its plot hinges on a human impulse normally thought petty: spite. Achilles holds a festering grudge against Agamemnon (“He cheated me, wronged me ... He can go to hell...”) turning down gifts, homage, even the return of his stolen consort Briseis just to prolong the king’s suffering. Now, after decades of focusing on such staples of bad behavior as aggressiveness, selfishness, narcissism and greed, scientists have turned their attention to the subtler and often unsettling theme of spite — the urge to punish, hurt, humiliate or harass another, even when one gains no obvious benefit and may well pay a cost. Psychologists are exploring spitefulness in its customary role as a negative trait, a lapse that should be embarrassing but is often sublimated as righteousness, as when you take your own sour time pulling out of a parking space because you notice another car is waiting for it and you’ll show that vulture who’s boss here, even though you’re wasting your own time, too. Evolutionary theorists, by contrast, are studying what might be viewed as the brighter side of spite, and the role it may have played in the origin of admirable traits like a cooperative spirit and a sense of fair play. The new research on spite transcends older notions that we are savage, selfish brutes at heart, as well as more recent suggestions that humans are inherently affiliative creatures yearning to love and connect. Instead, it concludes that vice and virtue, like the two sides of a V, may be inextricably linked. “Spitefulness is such an intrinsically interesting subject, and it fits with so many people’s everyday experience, that I was surprised to see how little mention there was of it in the psychology literature,” said David K. Marcus, a psychologist at Washington State University. At the same time, he said, “I was thrilled to find something that people haven’t researched to exhaustion.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
by Meghan Rosen Human faces just got a lot more emotional. People can broadcast more than three times as many different feelings on their faces as scientists once suspected. For years, scientists have thought that people could convey only happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. “I thought it was very odd to have only one positive emotion,” says cognitive scientist Aleix Martinez of Ohio State University in Columbus. So he and colleagues came up with 16 combined ones, such as “happily disgusted” and “happily surprised.” Then the researchers asked volunteers to imagine situations that would provoke these emotions, such as listening to a gross joke, or getting unexpected good news. When the team compared pictures of the volunteers making different faces and analyzed every eyebrow wrinkle, mouth stretch and tightened chin, “what we found was beyond belief,” Martinez says. For each compound emotion, almost everyone used the same facial muscles, the team reports March 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Martinez’s team’s findings could one day help computer engineers improve facial recognition software and help scientists better understand emotion-perception disorders such as schizophrenia. Citations S Du, Y. Tao and A. M. Martinez Compound facial expressions of emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online March 30, 2014. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1322355111. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
Link ID: 19430 - Posted: 04.01.2014
By Helen Briggs BBC News When it comes to detecting lies, you should trust your instinct, research suggests. We are better at identifying liars when we rely on initial responses rather than thinking about it, say psychologists. Generally we are poor at spotting liars - managing only slightly better than flipping a coin. But our success rate rises when we harness the unconscious mind, according to a report in Psychological Science. "What interested us about the unconscious mind is that it just might really be the seat of where accurate lie detection lives," said Dr Leanne ten Brinke of the University of California, Berkeley. "So if our ability to detect lies is not conscious - we simply can't do this when we're thinking hard about it - then maybe it lives somewhere else, and so we thought one possible explanation was the unconscious mind." When trying to find out if someone is lying, most people rely on cues like someone averting their gaze or appearing nervous. However, research suggests this is not accurate - people perform at only about 50% accuracy in traditional lie detection tasks. Psychologists at the University of California were puzzled by this, as some primates, such as chimps, are able to detect deceit - and evolutionary theory supposes that it maximises survival and reproductive success. Dr Ten Brinke and colleagues devised experiments to test the ability of the unconscious mind to spot a liar, to see if they could do better than the conscious mind. BBC © 2014
Link ID: 19420 - Posted: 03.29.2014
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR A large study has linked several common anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills to an increased risk of death, although it’s not certain the drugs were the cause. For more than seven years, researchers followed 34,727 people who filled prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax, or sleep aids like Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta, comparing them with 69,418 controls who did not. After adjusting for a wide variety of factors, the researchers found that people who took the drugs had more than double the risk of death. The study appears online in BMJ. The researchers tried to account for the use of other prescribed drugs, age, smoking, alcohol use, socioeconomic status, and other health and behavioral characteristics. Most important, the investigators also controlled for sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and other psychiatric illnesses, all of which are risk factors for mortality. The lead author, Dr. Scott Weich, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Warwick, said that while he and his colleagues were careful to account for as many potential risks as possible, they were not able to control for the severity of the illnesses suffered by the study participants. Still, he said, the research “adds to an accumulating body of evidence that these drugs are dangerous.” He added: “I prescribe these drugs, and they are difficult to come off. The less time you spend on them the better.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
by Erika Engelhaupt What gets us hot can be so revealing. For me, the slightest anxiety or excitement can trigger a warm spread across my face. I can feel the blood rushing up my neck and into the thousands of tiny capillaries across my cheeks. I’ve worn scarves or turtlenecks to job interviews, weather be damned, to keep my burning red neck from betraying my nerves. And the opposite can be true. Have you ever seen someone truly blanch? Given a real fright, the blood can literally drain from a person’s face, leaving a white mask. This all happens thanks to the autonomic nervous system, the fight-or-flight control system. Faced with danger, it tells blood vessels to pinch off the flow to the face and extremities, sending more blood to the muscles and body core so you’ll be pumped up for either the flight or the fight. Heat-sensing cameras can pick all this up, and in way more detail than my scarf could hide. Our nervous systems are constantly chugging away, largely out of our conscious control, tweaking our blood flow for every emotion. Just think of all the tiny wafts of heat flowing across your face as you negotiate with your boss, or talk to your lover. Feeling a bit anxious? Guilty? Stressed? Sexually aroused, perhaps? There’s a researcher out there with a thermal camera that can detect each of those. Even post-traumatic stress disorder may show up in your face’s heat map. In a pilot study of bank tellers who have been robbed, a team of researchers in Italy reports in the April 25 Neuroscience that tellers with mild PTSD have amped-up fear responses that show up in their facial heat signature. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.
By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN FEELING down? Smile. Cheer up. Put on a happy face. No doubt you’ve dismissed these bromides from friends and loved ones because everyone knows that you can’t feel better just by aping a happy look. Or perhaps you can. New research suggests that it is possible to treat depression by paralyzing key facial muscles with Botox, which prevents patients from frowning and having unhappy-looking faces. In a study forthcoming in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Eric Finzi, a cosmetic dermatologist, and Norman Rosenthal, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, randomly assigned a group of 74 patients with major depression to receive either Botox or saline injections in the forehead muscles whose contraction makes it possible to frown. Six weeks after the injection, 52 percent of the subjects who got Botox showed relief from depression, compared with only 15 percent of those who received the saline placebo. (You might think that patients would easily be able to tell whether they got the placebo or Botox. Actually, it wasn’t so obvious: Only about half of the subjects getting Botox guessed correctly. More important, knowing which treatment was received had no significant effect on treatment response.) Other studies over the past several years have found similar effects of Botox on mood. Michael Lewis at Cardiff University reported that nondepressed patients at a cosmetic dermatology clinic receiving Botox injection above the eyes frowned less and felt better than those who did not receive this injection. And M. Axel Wollmer at the University of Basel found that Botox injection was superior to a placebo in a group of depressed patients. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 19410 - Posted: 03.26.2014
by Clare Wilson It's a vicious circle of the cruellest kind. Stress might be causing infertility in women, according to new research. This could explain some cases in which couples are diagnosed as infertile with no apparent cause. Taking longer than usual to conceive can lead to stress, so the problem could become self-perpetuating. A link between everyday life stresses and infertility has long been suspected, but there has been little hard evidence connecting the two. Women receiving fertility treatment are generally advised to avoid stress, but not so the average person trying to conceive. An estimated one in seven couples in the UK have fertility problems and, in about a quarter of those, there is no known medical explanation, and they are given a diagnosis of "unexplained infertility". To explore the role of stress, Courtney Lynch at Ohio State University in Columbus and her colleagues collected saliva samples from 373 women in the US who had just started trying to conceive naturally and measured levels of an enzyme called alpha-amylase, a marker of stress. After one year of regular unprotected sex, about 13 per cent of the couples had failed to get pregnant, the standard definition of infertility. The third of women who had the highest alpha-amylase levels were twice as likely to be in the infertile group as the third with the lowest levels. In a previous study, Lynch's team found that those with higher levels of the stress enzyme were slightly less likely to conceive in their first month of trying. But this is the first time that alpha-amylase has been linked to clinical infertility. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Want to live a long, dementia-free life? Stress your cells out. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that heightened cellular stress causes brain cells to produce a protein that staves off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The work could lead to new ways to diagnose or treat such diseases. “This paper is very impressive,” says neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who was not involved in the new work. “It puts a finger on a particular pathway that can provide some explanation as to why some people are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s disease, characterized by a progressive loss of memory and cognition, affects an estimated 44.4 million people worldwide, mostly over the age of 65. The illness has been linked to the accumulation of certain proteins in the brain, but what causes symptoms has been unclear. That’s because the brains of some elderly people without dementia have the same clumps of so-called amyloid β and τ proteins typically associated with Alzheimer’s. The new study deals with a protein called repressor element 1-silencing transcription factor (REST), which turns genes and off. Scientists knew that REST played a key role in fetal brain development by controlling the activity of certain genes, but they thought it was absent in adult brains. However, when Bruce Yankner, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at all the genes and proteins that change in brains as people age, he found that REST levels begin increasing again when a person hits their 30s. Stumped as to why, he and his colleagues isolated human and mouse brain cells and probed what factors altered REST levels and what consequences those levels had. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online Statins may be useful in treating advanced multiple sclerosis (MS), say UK researchers. Early trial results in The Lancet show the cholesterol-lowering pills slow brain shrinkage in people with MS. The University College London (UCL) scientists say large trials can now begin. These will check whether statins benefit MS patients by slowing progression of the disease and easing their symptoms. MS is a major cause of disability, affecting nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which causes problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. Currently there is no cure, although there are treatments that can help in the early stages of the disease. Usually, after around 10 years, around half of people with MS will go on to develop more advanced disease - known as secondary progressive MS. It is this later stage disease that Dr Jeremy Chataway and colleagues at UCL hope to treat with low cost statins. To date, no licensed drugs have shown a convincing impact on this later stage of the disease. For their phase two trial, which is published in the Lancet, Dr Chataway's team randomly assigned 140 people with secondary progressive MS to receive either 80mg of a statin called simvastatin or a placebo for two years. The high, daily dose of simvastatin was well tolerated and slowed brain shrinkage by 43% over two years compared with the placebo. Dr Chataway said: "Caution should be taken regarding over-interpretation of our brain imaging findings, because these might not necessarily translate into clinical benefit. However, our promising results warrant further investigation in larger phase three disability-driven trials." BBC © 2014
Keyword: Multiple Sclerosis
Link ID: 19383 - Posted: 03.19.2014
By FLORENCE WILLIAMS So there’s this baby who has swallowed a .22-caliber bullet. The mother rushes into a drugstore, crying, “What shall I do?” “Give him a bottle of castor oil,” replies the druggist, “but don’t point him at anybody.” Whether you find this joke amusing depends on many more variables than you probably ever realized. It depends on a common cultural understanding of the technical properties of castor oil. It depends, as many funny jokes do and as any fourth grader can attest, on our own squeamishness about bodily functions. Getting less obvious, your sense of humor can also depend on your age, your gender, your I.Q., your political inclinations, how extroverted you are and the health of your dopamine reward circuit. If you think all this analysis sounds a bit, well, unfunny, E. B. White would back you up. He once wrote that picking apart jokes is like dissecting frogs: Few people are interested, and the subject always dies in the end. Fortunately, the cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems isn’t afraid of being unfunny. Humor is worthy of serious academic study, he argues in his book, “Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why,” (Read an excerpt.) because it yields insights into how our brains process a complex world and how that, in turn, makes us who we are. Though animals laugh, humans spend more time laughing than exhibiting any other emotion. But what gives some people a better sense of humor than others? Not surprisingly, extroverts tend to laugh more and produce more jokes; yet in tests measuring the ability to write cartoon captions, people who were more neurotic, assertive, manipulative and dogmatic were actually funnier. As the old saw holds, many of the best comics really are miserable. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 19373 - Posted: 03.18.2014
By Pippa Stephens Health reporter, BBC News People are less likely to yawn when others do as they get older, a study has found. Contagious yawning is linked more closely to a person's age than their ability to empathise, as previously thought, US-based scientists said. It also showed a stronger link to age than tiredness or energy levels. Researchers are now looking at whether the ability to catch yawns from other people is inherited, with the hope of helping treat mental health disorders. Autism and schizophrenia sufferers are reportedly less able to catch yawns, researchers said, so understanding the genes that might code for contagious yawning could illuminate new pathways for treatment. In the study, published in the journal Plos One, 328 participants were shown a three-minute video showing other people yawning. Each subject had to click a button every time they yawned. Levels of tiredness Overall, 68% of the participants yawned. Of those, 82% of people aged under 25 yawned, compared with 60% of people aged between 25 and 49, and 41% of people aged over 50. Dr Elizabeth Cirulli, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, led the study. She said: "This is the first study to look at a whole bunch of factors. It is the largest study, in terms of the number of people involved, to date." Dr Cirulli said she did not know why contagious yawning decreased with age. BBC © 2014
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Angry enough to have a heart attack? It might actually happen. A new analysis has found that outbursts of anger can significantly increase the risk for irregular heart rhythms, angina, strokes and heart attacks. Researchers combined data from nine studies of anger outbursts among patients who had had heart attacks, strokes and related problems. Most of the studies used a widely accepted anger assessment scale; one depended on a questionnaire administered to patients. They found that in the two hours after an outburst of anger, the relative risk of angina and heart attack increased by nearly five times, while the risk of ischemic stroke and cardiac arrhythmia increased by more than three times. The findings appeared in The European Heart Journal. The researchers stressed that the actual likelihood of having an anger-induced heart attack remains small. Still, for people with other risks for heart disease, any increase in risk is potentially dangerous. The senior author, Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said that little is known about ways to prevent anger from causing heart problems. “Are there specific behavioral interventions that would be effective? Medicines?” he asked. “There have been proposals for both,” he added, “but we need more and better research.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 19363 - Posted: 03.15.2014
|By Allie Wilkinson Vivaldi versus the Beatles. Both great. But your brain may be processing the musical information differently for each. That’s according to research in the journal NeuroImage. [Vinoo Alluri et al, From Vivaldi to Beatles and back: Predicting lateralized brain responses to music] For the study, volunteers had their brains scanned by functional MRI as they listened to two musical medleys containing songs from different genres. The scans identified brain regions that became active during listening. One medley included four instrumental pieces and the other consisted of songs from the B side of Abbey Road. Computer algorithms were used to identify specific aspects of the music, which the researchers were able to match with specific, activated brain areas. The researchers found that vocal and instrumental music get treated differently. While both hemispheres of the brain deal with musical features, the presence of lyrics shifts the processing of musical features to the left auditory cortex. These results suggest that the brain’s hemispheres are specialized for different kinds of sound processing. A finding revealed but what you might call instrumental analysis. © 2014 Scientific American,
Imagine you’re calling a stranger—a possible employer, or someone you’ve admired from a distance—on the telephone for the first time. You want to make a good impression, and you’ve rehearsed your opening lines. What you probably don’t realize is that the person you’re calling is going to size you up the moment you utter “hello.” Psychologists have discovered that the simple, two-syllable sound carries enough information for listeners to draw conclusions about the speaker’s personality, such as how trustworthy he or she is. The discovery may help improve computer-generated and voice-activated technologies, experts say. “They’ve confirmed that people do make snap judgments when they hear someone’s voice,” says Drew Rendall, a psychologist at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “And the judgments are made on very slim evidence.” Psychologists have shown that we can determine a great deal about someone’s personality by listening to them. But these researchers looked at what others hear in someone’s voice when listening to a lengthy speech, says Phil McAleer, a psychologist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom and the lead author of the new study. No one had looked at how short a sentence we need to hear before making an assessment, although other studies had shown that we make quick judgments about people’s personalities from a first glance at their faces. “You can pick up clues about how dominant and trustworthy someone is within the first few minutes of meeting a stranger, based on visual cues,” McAleer says. To find out if there is similar information in a person’s voice, he and his colleagues decided to test “one of the quickest and shortest of sociable words, ‘Hello.’ ” © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
by Bruce Bower Chimpanzees possess a flexible, humanlike sensitivity to the mental states of others, even strangers from another species, researchers suggest March 11 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Empathy’s roots go back at least to the common ancestor of humans and chimps, they say. Psychologist Matthew Campbell and biologist Frans de Waal, both of Emory University in Atlanta, treated chimps’ tendency to yawn when viewing videotapes of others yawning as a sign of spontaneous empathy. Their research follows other scientists’ observations that young chimps mimic scientists’ yawns (SN Online: 10/16/13). Nineteen chimps living in an outdoor research facility yawned when they saw the same action from chimps that they lived with, researchers and staff they had seen before and people who were new to them. Unfamiliar chimps and baboons failed to elicit contagious yawning. As in the wild, unfamiliar chimps were probably viewed as threats. Chimps in the study hadn’t seen baboons before. Having socially connected with facility workers, chimps reacted empathically to human strangers who yawned, the researchers propose. Imitating others’ facial expressions represents a rapid way to forge empathic ties, Campbell says. His research didn’t test whether chimps spend a lot of time trying to read others’ thoughts and feelings, a more complex type of empathy. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.
Link ID: 19354 - Posted: 03.12.2014
By INNA GAISLER-SALOMON WE intuitively understand, and scientific studies confirm, that if a woman experiences stress during her pregnancy, it can affect the health of her baby. But what about stress that a woman experiences before getting pregnant — perhaps long before? It may seem unlikely that the effects of such stress could be directly transmitted to the child. After all, stress experienced before pregnancy is not part of a mother’s DNA, nor does it overlap with the nine months of fetal development. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that stress experienced during a person’s lifetime is often correlated with stress-related problems in that person’s offspring — and even in the offspring’s offspring. Perhaps the best-studied example is that of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Research shows that survivors’ children have greater-than-average chances of having stress-related psychiatric illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder, even without being exposed to higher levels of stress in their own lives. Similar correlations are found in other populations. Studies suggest that genocides in Rwanda, Nigeria, Cambodia, Armenia and the former Yugoslavia have brought about distinct psychopathological symptoms in the offspring of survivors. What explains this pattern? Does trauma lead to suboptimal parenting, which leads to abnormal behavior in children, which later affects their own parenting style? Or can you biologically inherit the effects of your parents’ stress, after all? It may be the latter. In a study that I, together with my colleagues Hiba Zaidan and Micah Leshem, recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, we found that a relatively mild form of stress in female rats, before pregnancy, affected their offspring in a way that appeared to be unrelated to parental care. © 2014 The New York Times Company
by Hal Hodson WHETHER striding ahead with pride or slouching sullenly, we all broadcast our emotions through body language. Now a computer has learned to interpret those unspoken cues as well as you or I. Antonio Camurri of the University of Genoa in Italy and colleagues have built a system which uses the depth-sensing, motion-capture camera in Microsoft's Kinect to determine the emotion conveyed by a person's body movements. Using computers to capture emotions has been done before, but typically focuses on facial analysis or voice recording. Reading someone's emotional state from the way they walk across a room or their posture as they sit at a desk means they don't have to speak or look into a camera. "It's a nice achievement," says Frank Pollick, professor of psychology at the University of Glasgow, UK. "Being able to use the Kinect for this is really useful." The system uses the Kinect camera to build a stick figure representation of a person that includes information on how their head, torso, hands and shoulders are moving. Software looks for body positions and movements widely recognised in psychology as indicative of certain emotional states. For example, if a person's head is bowed and their shoulders are drooping, that might indicate sadness or fear. Adding in the speed of movement – slow indicates sadness, while fast indicates fear – allows the software to determine how someone is feeling. In tests, the system correctly identified emotions in the stick figures 61.3 per cent of the time, compared with a 61.9 per cent success rate for 60 human volunteers (arXiv.org/1402.5047). Camurri is using the system to build games that teach children with autism to recognise and express emotions through full-body movements. Understanding how another person feels can be difficult for people with autism, and recognising fear is more difficult than happiness. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Clara Moskowitz When mathematicians describe equations as beautiful, they are not lying. Brain scans show that their minds respond to beautiful equations in the same way other people respond to great paintings or masterful music. The finding could bring neuroscientists closer to understanding the neural basis of beauty, a concept that is surprisingly hard to define. In the study, researchers led by Semir Zeki of University College London asked 16 mathematicians to rate 60 equations on a scale ranging from "ugly" to "beautiful." Two weeks later, the mathematicians viewed the same equations and rated them again while lying inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The scientists found that the more beautiful an equation was to the mathematician, the more activity his or her brain showed in an area called the A1 field of the medial orbitofrontal cortex. The orbitofrontal cortex is associated with emotion, and this particular region of it has shown in previous tests to be correlated with emotional responses to visual and musical beauty. The researchers wondered whether the trend would extend to mathematical beauty, which "has a much deeper intellectual source than visual or musical beauty, which are more 'sensible' and perceptually based," they wrote in a paper reporting their results published on 13 February in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. Investigating mathematical beauty allowed the researchers to test the role of culture and learning in aesthetic appreciation. The scientists hypothesized that while people with no musical or artistic training can still appreciate Beethoven’s and Michelangelo's works, only those who understand the meaning behind certain mathematical formulas would find them beautiful. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,
Link ID: 19327 - Posted: 03.06.2014