Your Brain Signature May Predict Your Emotions

First Posted: Aug 12, 2015 04:46 PM EDT

A brain signature may actually predict human emotions. Scientists have discovered a way to predict emotions based on brain activity.

Researchers have long been fascinated with the "emotional brain." In fact, it's partly this fascination that has sparked hundreds of neuroimaging studies in recent years. For neuroimaging to be useful, though, it's necessary to develop sensitive and specific brain signatures that can be applied to individual people to yield information about their emotional experiences.

In this latest study, the researchers wanted to develop a brain signature that could predict the intensity of negative emotional responses to evocative images and to generally predict negative emotional experience. They studied 182 participants who were shown negative photos and neutral photos. They were also subjected to painful heat.

Using the brain imaging and machine learning techniques, the researchers identified a neural signature of negative emotion-a single neural activation pattern distributed across the entire brain that accurately predicted how negative a person would feel after viewing unpleasant images.

"It's an impressive demonstration of imaging our feelings, of decoding our emotions from brain activity," said Luke Change, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Emotions are central to our daily lives and emotional dysregulation is at the heart of many brain- and body-related disorders, but we don't have a clear understanding of how emotions are processed in the brain. Thus, understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that generate and reduce negative emotional experiences is paramount."

The researchers found that the pattern was extremely good at predicting the magnitude and type of aversive experience. This, in particular, may tell researchers a bit more about the emotional brain and allow them to continue by studying other emotions in the brain.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS Biology.

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