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How the brain processes emotions

Despite being personal and subjective, our feelings and emotions are in fact represented across senses, situations and people by a code, says a recently published paper. Study author Adam Anderson at Cornell University contends that fine-grained patterns of activity in an area of the brain associated with processing emotions, captures our subjective feeling and transforms them into code.

Advances such as this in what Anderson describes as the last frontier of neuroscience tell us how the brain represents our innermost feelings—clearly it is not simply by activation in specialized regions for positive or negative feelings as has been long believed. If two people gain the same pleasure from say watching a football match it is “because they share similar fine-grained patterns of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex,” Anderson says.

In the study participants were exposed to a series of pictures and tastes during functional neuroimaging. Soon after the researchers analysed the ratings of participants of their subjective experiences along with their brain activation patterns.

Anderson’s team found that that representation of our internal subjective experience may be central to perception of sensory experience and not confined to specialized emotional centers. Also, regardless of their orgins (tongue or eye) similar subjective feelings result in a similar pattern of activity in the OFC. This indicates that the brain contains a common emotion code that straddles entire spectrums of experiences.

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