According to this article, I've been controlling myself: CHICAGO - Perhaps all those blog posts you wrote about your breakup really did have a purpose.
Naming feelings takes some of the emotional impact out of them by engaging a brain region that aids self-control, according to new research.
In a clever series of experiments, UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman found that labeling a picture of someone who looked angry as "angry" reduced the negative emotional feelings that most people feel when viewing such a photograph.
"Putting feelings into words activates this region that's capable of producing emotional regulatory outcomes, which could explain why putting feelings into words dampens them down," Lieberman said in a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences annual meeting on Saturday.
While plenty of psychological treatments have involved talking about one's feelings, Lieberman's work is some of the first to demonstrate the underlying neural basis for the therapeutic nature of talking something out. The research is based on the idea that engaging a part of the brain that aids in self-control, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, helps put a damper on feelings, no matter how you get that part of the brain involved.
First, the researchers had subjects view photographs of men and women with some positive and some negative facial expressions. The negative facial expressions tended to stimulate activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with processing emotions.
The researchers had the subjects play a simple game while looking at the photos. If the photo was of a woman (and 80 percent of the pictures were) they pressed the "go" button, but if the picture was of a man, they didn't press the button - their brain had to intervene to inhibit the motor response of pressing the button. Simply exerting self-control over the motor function by not pressing the button led to reduced negative emotional response. The idea is that the self-control area of the prefrontal cortex turns on and helps all forms of self-control. They call this "inhibitory spillover."
In the next set of studies, they had one set of people label the photos with simple gender-name matching - match Seth to the picture of a man, not Sarah. Another group was asked to name the emotions on the faces of the people in the pictures. The subjects who named the emotions experienced less negative emotion associated with negative images. By focusing on the emotions in the pictures to label them, the subjects engaged that piece of the prefrontal cortex and "down regulated" their intensity.
It's important to note that the regulatory effect didn't come from increased self-awareness about one's relationship to the emotion. The more tightly regulated emotional response was practically a side effect of the cognitive task of labeling the emotion in the face.The researchers postulate that the same principle is at work when you talk about your feelings: it's the bare fact of labeling your emotions that counts, not whatever conclusions you draw in the course of verbal expression (or poetry writing).
It's possible that these techniques could be used to treat fear-based conditions from arachnophobia (fear of spiders) to zemmiphobia (fear of the great mole rat).
One downside: The researchers found that naming happy feelings also reduces their intensity, so the next time you're watching the Puppy Cam, you can keep all those "They are so cute!" comments to yourself.