The human voice is one of the principal conveyers of social and affective communication. Yet relatively little is known about the neural circuitry that supports the recognition of different vocally expressed emotions. We conducted an FMRI study to examine the brain responses to vocal expressions of anger and happiness, and to test whether specific brain regions showed preferential engagement in the processing of one emotion over the other. We also tested the extent to which simultaneously presented facial expressions of the same or different emotions would enhance brain responses, and to what degree such responses depend on attention towards the vocal expression. Forty healthy individuals were scanned while listening to vocal expressions of anger or happiness, while at the same time watching congruent or discrepant facial expressions. Happy voices elicited significantly more activation than angry voices in right anterior and posterior middle temporal gyrus (MTG), left posterior MTG and right inferior frontal gyrus. Furthermore, for the left MTG region, happy voices were related to higher activation only when paired with happy faces. Activation in the left insula, left amygdala and hippocampus, and rostral anterior cingulate cortex showed an effect of selectively attending to the vocal stimuli. Our results identify a network of regions implicated in the processing of vocal emotion, and suggest a particularly salient role for vocal expressions of happiness.
Facial expressions of pain are an important part of the pain response, signaling distress to others and eliciting social support. To evaluate how voluntary modulation of this response contributes to the pain experience, 29 subjects were exposed to thermal stimulation while making standardized pain, control, or relaxed faces. Dependent measures were self-reported negative effect (valence and arousal) as well as the intensity of nociceptive stimulation required to reach a given subjective level of pain. No direct social feedback was given by the experimenter. Although the amount of nociceptive stimulation did not differ across face conditions, subjects reported more negative effects in response to painful stimulation while holding the pain face. Subsequent analyses suggested the effects were not due to preexisting differences in the difficulty or unpleasantness of making the pain face. These results suggest that voluntary pain expressions have no positively reinforcing (pain attenuating) qualities, at least in the absence of external contingencies such as social reinforcement, and that such expressions may indeed be associated with higher levels of negative affect in response to similar nociceptive input. PERSPECTIVE: This study demonstrates that making a standardized pain face increases negative affect in response to nociceptive stimulation, even in the absence of social feedback. This suggests that exaggerated facial displays of pain, although often socially reinforced, may also have unintended aversive consequences.
This commentary provides reflections on the current state of affairs in research on EEG frontal asymmetries associated with affect. Although considerable progress has occurred since the first report on this topic 25 years ago, research on frontal EEG asymmetries associated with affect has largely evolved in the absence of any serious connection with neuroscience research on the structure and function of the primate prefrontal cortex (PFC). Such integration is important as this work progresses since the neuroscience literature can help to understand what the prefrontal cortex is "doing" in affective processing. Data from the neuroscience literature on the heterogeneity of different sectors of the PFC are introduced and more specific hypotheses are offered about what different sectors of the PFC might be doing in affect. A number of methodological issues associated with EEG measures of functional prefrontal asymmetries are also considered.
This article opens by noting that positive emotions do not fit existing models of emotions. Consequently, a new model is advanced to describe the form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment, and love. This new model posits that these positive emotions serve to broaden an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire, which in turn has the effect of building that individual's physical, intellectual, and social resources. Empirical evidence to support this broaden-and-build model of positive emotions is reviewed, and implications for emotion regulation and health promotion are discussed.
It has been widely assumed that emotional avoidance during bereavement leads to either prolonged grief, delayed grief, or delayed somatic symptoms. To test this view, as well as a contrasting adaptive hypothesis, emotional avoidance was measured 6 months after a conjugal loss as negative verbal-autonomic response dissociation (low self-rated negative emotion coupled with heightened cardiovascular activity) and compared with grief measured at 6 and 14 months. The negative dissociation score evidenced reliability and validity but did not evidence the assumed link to severe grief. Rather, consistent with the adaptive hypothesis, negative dissociation at 6 months was associated with minimal grief symptoms across 14 months. Negative dissociation scores were also linked to initially high levels of somatic symptoms, which dropped to a low level by 14 months. Possible explanations for the initial cost and long-term adaptive quality of emotional avoidance during bereavement, as well as implications and limitations of the findings, are discussed.
Who benefits most from making sacrifices for others? The current study provides one answer to this question by demonstrating the intrinsic benefits of sacrifice for people who are highly motivated to respond to a specific romantic partner's needs noncontingently, a phenomenon termed communal strength. In a 14-day daily-experience study of 69 romantic couples, communal strength was positively associated with positive emotions during the sacrifice itself, with feeling appreciated by the partner for the sacrifice, and with feelings of relationship satisfaction on the day of the sacrifice. Furthermore, feelings of authenticity for the sacrifice mediated these associations. Several alternative hypotheses were ruled out: The effects were not due to individuals higher in communal strength making qualitatively different kinds of sacrifices, being more positive in general, or being involved in happier relationships. Implications for research and theory on communal relationships and positive emotions are discussed.
Prosociality is fundamental to social relationships, but providing it indiscriminately risks exploitation by egoists. Past work demonstrates that individuals avoid these risks through a more selective form of prosociality, cooperating less and sharing fewer resources with egoists (e.g. Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981). The evolution of cooperation. Science, 211(4489), 1390–1396). We extend this work to explore whether individuals experience reduced prosocial affective and physiological responses to egoists in situations where they are suffering. In two studies, participants learned of a target’s egoistic or non-egoistic traits, and then encountered the target suffering. Suffering egoists evoked less compassion in others than non-egoists and elicited physiological responses that diverged from patterns associated with compassion and social engagement (reduced heart rate and greater respiratory sinus arrhythmia activity). Participants' feelings of distrust toward egoists explained these attenuated emotional and physiological responses. These results build upon studies of prosocial behavior by suggesting that individuals experience reduced prosocial emotional and physiological responses toward suffering egoists.
Do people benefit when they think their partner has made a sacrifice for the relationship? In a multimethod study of 80 couples, we examined whether people can detect when their partner suppresses their emotions and if perceived partner suppression is costly for the recipient of sacrifice. When people listened to their partner recall an important sacrifice in the lab and when people thought their partner sacrificed in daily life, they thought that their partner was less authentic the more they perceived them to have suppressed their emotions. In turn, perceived partner inauthenticity during sacrifice was associated with poorer personal well-being and relationship quality. These effects persisted over time with perceived partner suppression predicting poorer relationship quality 3 months later. The results were independent from the influence of an actor’s projection of their own suppression and their partner’s actual suppression. Implications for research on emotion regulation and close relationships are discussed.
One of the most important goals and outcomes of social life is to attain status in the groups to which we belong. Such face-to-face status is defined by the amount of respect, influence, and prominence each member enjoys in the eyes of the others. Three studies investigated personological determinants of status in social groups (fraternity, sorority, and dormitory), relating the Big Five personality traits and physical attractiveness to peer ratings of status. High Extraversion substantially predicted elevated status for both sexes. High Neuroticism, incompatible with male gender norms, predicted lower status in men. None of the other Big Five traits predicted status. These effects were independent of attractiveness, which predicted higher status only in men. Contrary to previous claims, women's status ordering was just as stable as men's but emerged later. Discussion focuses on personological pathways to attaining status and on potential mediators.
Dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are well documented in conflict tasks, wherein competition from irrelevant stimulus attributes intensifies selection demands and leads to subsequent performance benefits. The current study investigated whether mnemonic demands, in a working memory (WM) task, can drive similar online control modifications. Demand levels (high vs. low) of WM maintenance (memory load of 2 items vs. 1 item) and delay-spanning distractor interference (confusable vs. not confusable with memoranda) were manipulated using a factorial design during a WM delayed-recognition task. Performance was best subsequent to trials in which both maintenance and distractor interference demands were high, followed by trials with high demand in either of these 2 control domains, and worst following trials with low demand in both domains. These results suggest that dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are not triggered exclusively by conflict-specific contexts but are also triggered by WM demands, revealing a putative mechanism by which this system configures itself for successful task performance.
Some common conceptions of Buddhist meditative practice emphasize the elimination of emotion and desire in the interest of attaining tranquility and spiritual perfection. But to place too strong an emphasis on this is to miss an important social element emphasized by major figures in the Mahāyāna and Chan/Zen Buddhist traditions who are critical of these quietistic elements and who stress instead an understanding of an enlightenment that emphasizes enriched sociality and flexible readiness to engage, and not avoid, life’s fluctuations in fortune and essential impermanence. It is argued here that these criticisms of quietism are bolstered by recent advances in the philosophy and psychology of the emotions that highlight the role of emotions in framing the context of decision making—that is, in sorting out the relevant from the irrelevant, identifying salience, and directing decisions when uncertainty prevents definitive judgment. This research makes clearer why self-liberation is fundamentally a matter of liberation from judgmental habit and inflexibility, and lends support to a view of enlightenment that emphasizes compassionate engagement with others. It also provides for a more plausible picture of the cognitive transformation involved in liberation and sheds light on the rationale for certain traditional Chan and Zen teaching tactics, such as those involving koan introspection.