The embodiment of emotion: Language use during the feeling of social emotions predicts cortical somatosensory activity

Assistant Professor of Education at the Rossier School of Education, Neuroscience Graduate Program Faculty, 3641 Watt Way, Suite B17, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520, USA. .
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 07/2012; 8(7). DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss075
Source: PubMed


Complex social emotions involve both abstract cognitions and bodily sensations, and individuals may differ on their relative reliance on these. We hypothesized that individuals' descriptions of their feelings during a semi-structured emotion induction interview would reveal two distinct psychological styles-a more abstract, cognitive style and a more body-based, affective style-and that these would be associated with somatosensory neural activity. We examined 28 participants' open-ended verbal responses to admiration- and compassion-provoking narratives in an interview and BOLD activity to the same narratives during subsequent functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning. Consistent with hypotheses, individuals' affective and cognitive word use were stable across emotion conditions, negatively correlated and unrelated to reported emotion strength in the scanner. Greater use of affective relative to cognitive words predicted more activation in SI, SII, middle anterior cingulate cortex and insula during emotion trials. The results suggest that individuals' verbal descriptions of their feelings reflect differential recruitment of neural regions supporting physical body awareness. Although somatosensation has long been recognized as an important component of emotion processing, these results offer 'proof of concept' that individual differences in open-ended speech reflect different processing styles at the neurobiological level. This study also demonstrates SI involvement during social emotional experience.

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    • "Furthermore, our findings are also in accordance with clinical studies that find that interactions between the amygdala and perceptual cortices are positively associated with anxiety disorders [Ahs et al., 2009; Gilboa et al., 2004]. In addition to visual perception regions, expression of feelings during an emotion induction paradigm recruits activity in somatosensory regions, including aspects of the paracentral lobule [Saxbe et al., 2013]. Stronger connections between the amygdala and these regions were also associated with increased trait anxiety in the current study. "
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    • "Our findings therefore accord well with psychological evidence that experiences of emotion—conscious feelings—do not correspond in one-to-one fashion with measures of body arousal or with embodied sensations (Barrett et al., 2007). They also accord with reports that contributions of arousal and body sensations to emotional feelings and to emotion-related somatosensory neural activations vary across people and contexts (Barrett et al., 2007; Dunn et al., 2010; Saxbe et al., 2013). "
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