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Concept: Affective neuroscience


Emotion is a primary motivator for creative behaviors, yet the interaction between the neural systems involved in creativity and those involved in emotion has not been studied. In the current study, we addressed this gap by using fMRI to examine piano improvisation in response to emotional cues. We showed twelve professional jazz pianists photographs of an actress representing a positive, negative or ambiguous emotion. Using a non-ferromagnetic thirty-five key keyboard, the pianists improvised music that they felt represented the emotion expressed in the photographs. Here we show that activity in prefrontal and other brain networks involved in creativity is highly modulated by emotional context. Furthermore, emotional intent directly modulated functional connectivity of limbic and paralimbic areas such as the amygdala and insula. These findings suggest that emotion and creativity are tightly linked, and that the neural mechanisms underlying creativity may depend on emotional state.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroscience, Limbic system, Emotion, Affective neuroscience, Music, Piano


Pattern classification of human brain activity provides unique insight into the neural underpinnings of diverse mental states. These multivariate tools have recently been used within the field of affective neuroscience to classify distributed patterns of brain activation evoked during emotion induction procedures. Here we assess whether neural models developed to discriminate among distinct emotion categories exhibit predictive validity in the absence of exteroceptive emotional stimulation. In two experiments, we show that spontaneous fluctuations in human resting-state brain activity can be decoded into categories of experience delineating unique emotional states that exhibit spatiotemporal coherence, covary with individual differences in mood and personality traits, and predict on-line, self-reported feelings. These findings validate objective, brain-based models of emotion and show how emotional states dynamically emerge from the activity of separable neural systems.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Human brain, Emotion, Affective neuroscience, Feeling


Facial expressions convey key cues of human emotions, and may also be important for interspecies interactions. The universality hypothesis suggests that six basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise) should be expressed by similar facial expressions in close phylogenetic species such as humans and nonhuman primates. However, some facial expressions have been shown to differ in meaning between humans and nonhuman primates like macaques. This ambiguity in signalling emotion can lead to an increased risk of aggression and injuries for both humans and animals. This raises serious concerns for activities such as wildlife tourism where humans closely interact with wild animals. Understanding what factors (i.e., experience and type of emotion) affect ability to recognise emotional state of nonhuman primates, based on their facial expressions, can enable us to test the validity of the universality hypothesis, as well as reduce the risk of aggression and potential injuries in wildlife tourism.

Concepts: Psychology, Affect, Primate, Limbic system, Emotion, Paul Ekman, Affective neuroscience, Feeling


Research has shown that acute exercise reduces urges for chocolate in normal weight people. This study aimed to examine the effects of an acute exercise bout on urges to consume sugary snacks, affect as well as ‘psychological and physiological responses’ to stress and a ‘sugary snack cue’, in overweight individuals. Following 3 days of chocolate-abstinence, 47 overweight, sugary snack consumers were assessed, in 2 randomly ordered conditions, in a within-subject design: 15-min brisk walk or passive control. Following each, participants completed 2 tasks: Stroop color-word interference task, and handling sugary snacks. Urges for sugary snacks, affective activation and valence were assessed. ANOVAs revealed significant condition x time interaction effects for: urges to consume sugary snacks, affective valence and activation. Obtained data show that exercise reduces urges for sugary snacks and attenuates urges in response to the stress situation and the cue in overweight people.

Concepts: Physiology, Obesity, Crossover study, Affect, Repeated measures design, Emotion, Task, Affective neuroscience


The distinction between positive and negative emotions is fundamental in emotion models. Intriguingly, neurobiological work suggests shared mechanisms across positive and negative emotions. We tested whether similar overlap occurs in real-life facial expressions. During peak intensities of emotion, positive and negative situations were successfully discriminated from isolated bodies but not faces. Nevertheless, viewers perceived illusory positivity or negativity in the nondiagnostic faces when seen with bodies. To reveal the underlying mechanisms, we created compounds of intense negative faces combined with positive bodies, and vice versa. Perceived affect and mimicry of the faces shifted systematically as a function of their contextual body emotion. These findings challenge standard models of emotion expression and highlight the role of the body in expressing and perceiving emotions.

Concepts: Psychology, Affect, Perception, Emotion, Affective neuroscience, Expression, Earth, Wind & Fire


Neuroimaging has identified many correlates of emotion but has not yet yielded brain representations predictive of the intensity of emotional experiences in individuals. We used machine learning to identify a sensitive and specific signature of emotional responses to aversive images. This signature predicted the intensity of negative emotion in individual participants in cross validation (n =121) and test (n = 61) samples (high-low emotion = 93.5% accuracy). It was unresponsive to physical pain (emotion-pain = 92% discriminative accuracy), demonstrating that it is not a representation of generalized arousal or salience. The signature was comprised of mesoscale patterns spanning multiple cortical and subcortical systems, with no single system necessary or sufficient for predicting experience. Furthermore, it was not reducible to activity in traditional “emotion-related” regions (e.g., amygdala, insula) or resting-state networks (e.g., “salience,” “default mode”). Overall, this work identifies differentiable neural components of negative emotion and pain, providing a basis for new, brain-based taxonomies of affective processes.

Concepts: Psychology, Prophecy, Neuroscience, Affect, Emotion, Affective neuroscience, Affect display, Affect measures


Objective: The hypothesis that muscular states are related to emotions has been supported predominantly by research on facial expressions. However, body posture also may be important to the initiation and modulation of emotions. This experiment aimed to investigate whether an upright seated posture could influence affective and cardiovascular responses to a psychological stress task, relative to a slumped seated posture. Method: There were 74 participants who were randomly assigned to either a slumped or upright seated posture. Their backs were strapped with physiotherapy tape to hold this posture throughout the study. Participants were told a cover story to reduce expectation effects of posture. Participants completed a reading task, the Trier Social Stress speech task, assessments of mood, self-esteem, and perceived threat. Blood pressure and heart rate were continuously measured. Results: Upright participants reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, and lower fear, compared to slumped participants. Linguistic analysis showed slumped participants used more negative emotion words, first-person singular pronouns, affective process words, sadness words, and fewer positive emotion words and total words during the speech. Upright participants had higher pulse pressure during and after the stressor. Conclusions: Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress. The research is consistent with embodied cognition theories that muscular and autonomic states influence emotional responding. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2014 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Psychology, Affect, Linguistics, Verb, Emotion, Affective neuroscience, Feeling, Affect display


We have recently demonstrated that motor execution, observation, and imagery of movements expressing certain emotions can enhance corresponding affective states and therefore could be used for emotion regulation. But which specific movement(s) should one use in order to enhance each emotion? This study aimed to identify, using Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), the Laban motor elements (motor characteristics) that characterize movements whose execution enhances each of the basic emotions: anger, fear, happiness, and sadness. LMA provides a system of symbols describing its motor elements, which gives a written instruction (motif) for the execution of a movement or movement-sequence over time. Six senior LMA experts analyzed a validated set of video clips showing whole body dynamic expressions of anger, fear, happiness and sadness, and identified the motor elements that were common to (appeared in) all clips expressing the same emotion. For each emotion, we created motifs of different combinations of the motor elements common to all clips of the same emotion. Eighty subjects from around the world read and moved those motifs, to identify the emotion evoked when moving each motif and to rate the intensity of the evoked emotion. All subjects together moved and rated 1241 motifs, which were produced from 29 different motor elements. Using logistic regression, we found a set of motor elements associated with each emotion which, when moved, predicted the feeling of that emotion. Each emotion was predicted by a unique set of motor elements and each motor element predicted only one emotion. Knowledge of which specific motor elements enhance specific emotions can enable emotional self-regulation through adding some desired motor qualities to one’s personal everyday movements (rather than mimicking others' specific movements) and through decreasing motor behaviors which include elements that enhance negative emotions.

Concepts: Psychology, Affect, Limbic system, Emotion, Paul Ekman, Affective neuroscience, Feeling, Laban Movement Analysis


How do individuals emotionally cope with the imminent real-world salience of mortality? DeWall and Baumeister as well as Kashdan and colleagues previously provided support that an increased use of positive emotion words serves as a way to protect and defend against mortality salience of one’s own contemplated death. Although these studies provide important insights into the psychological dynamics of mortality salience, it remains an open question how individuals cope with the immense threat of mortality prior to their imminent actual death. In the present research, we therefore analyzed positivity in the final words spoken immediately before execution by 407 death row inmates in Texas. By using computerized quantitative text analysis as an objective measure of emotional language use, our results showed that the final words contained a significantly higher proportion of positive than negative emotion words. This emotional positivity was significantly higher than (a) positive emotion word usage base rates in spoken and written materials and (b) positive emotional language use with regard to contemplated death and attempted or actual suicide. Additional analyses showed that emotional positivity in final statements was associated with a greater frequency of language use that was indicative of self-references, social orientation, and present-oriented time focus as well as with fewer instances of cognitive-processing, past-oriented, and death-related word use. Taken together, our findings offer new insights into how individuals cope with the imminent real-world salience of mortality.

Concepts: Psychology, Word, Limbic system, Emotion, Affective neuroscience, Concepts, Attitude change, Joseph E. LeDoux


Human emotions, such as anxiety, depression, fear, joy, and laughter, profoundly affect psychological and physiological processes. These emotions form a set of basic, evolved functions that are shared by all humans. Laughter is part of a universal language of basic emotions that all humans recognize. Health care providers and educators may utilize the power of laughter to improve health and enhance teaching and learning. This is an important consideration because teaching is not just about content: it is also about forming relationships and strengthening human connections. In this context, when used effectively, humor is documented to build relationships and enhance performance. Specifically, humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation. Moreover, humor stimulates multiple physiological systems that decrease levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, and increase the activation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system. To achieve these benefits, it is important to use humor that is relevant to the course content and not disparaging toward others. Self-effacing humor illustrates to students that the teacher is comfortable making mistakes and sharing these experiences with the classroom. In this brief review, we discuss the history and relationship between humor, laughing, learning, and health with an emphasis on the powerful, universal language of laughter.

Concepts: Health care, Psychology, Education, Affect, Emotion, Dopamine, Affective neuroscience