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fMRI Helps Us Understand How We Interpret Social Signals

Through the use of fMRI, researchers have discovered that the brain generates negative responses faster and more effortlessly than positive reactions, according to a study recently published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Human beings have slower or faster reaction times depending on the kind of emotional cues they’re observing. Researchers from the University of Nebraska sought out to understand how the amygdala, the region in the brain associated with emotion, behaves when people see faces expressing happiness, anger, or surprise.

To start off, the researchers asked 51 white participants who were all between the ages of 17 and 30 and had no history of psychological or neurological disorders to look at photos of surprised, happy, and angry faces. The participants returned a week later to view images of faces for a second time but while undergoing MRI. While in the scanner, they looked at images of fearful, surprised, and neutral facial expressions. Occasionally, the participants were asked to sustain their initial reactions to the faces or reexamine how they originally interpreted the photo.

Ultimately, the study proved that the brain reaches for negative responses faster and more easily than positive reactions, especially in younger people. They found that people whose amygdala has a strong connection to other parts of the brain are more likely to react positively to uncertainty because they were able to look at the image with a wider perspective.

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