Monday, December 19, 2011

Brain Posts - Brain and Gut in Processing Emotion

This is a cool research review from Brain Posts on the inter-connection between bodily sensations and emotional processing. This fMRI imaging study was able to identify some of the areas involved in how the brain integrates interoceptive signals.

Brain and Gut in Processing Emotion

Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex in Blue
Intense emotional experiences frequently occur with bodily sensations such as a rapid heart rate or gastrointestinal distress.

It appears that bodily sensation (interoception) can be an important source of information when judging one's emotional.  How the brain processes interoception is becoming better understood.

However, how the brain integrates interoceptive signals with other brain emotional processing circuits is less well understood.

Terasawa and colleagues from Japan recently presented results of their research on this interaction of interoception and emotion.

Eighteen graduate and undergraduate students were scanned using a 3T fMRI scanner.

Stimulus cues were separated into those in the interoceptive domain using the Body Perception Questionnaire and the emotional domain using the Positive and Negative Affect scale.

Interoceptive cues included cues such as "I have a fast pulse" while a typical emotional cue was "I am happy".  Each cue was compared to a control possession cue such as "I have money".

The authors then contrasted brain regions activated by interoceptive, emotional or both interoceptive and emotional cues.

Brain regions identified as being activated during interoceptive cues included:
Interoception only: supplementary motor area (Brodmann area 6), inferior parietal gyrus
Interoception and emotional cues: right insular cortex (Brodmann area 13), ventromedial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann area 11) and the bilateral lingual cortex (Brodmann area 17).

The authors propose these finding support the role of the insula and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the integration of interoception and central brain emotional signaling.  They conclude "Our findings indicate that activation in these areas (ventromedial prefrontal cortex and right insula) and precuneus are functionally associated for subjective awareness of the emotional state".

Some may argue that in making important decisions you should "Go with your gut feeling".

The findings from this study suggest a more informed approach might be "Use your gut and other bodily signals (interoception) integrated with central brain signals in accurately judging your emotional state for making decisions"

This study suggests the brain has allocated specific regions to aid in the integration of body and brain signals to accurately judge and assess one's own emotional state.

Figure of ventrolateral prefrontal cortex from a screen shot of the iPad app Brain Tutor HD.

Terasawa, Y., Fukushima, H., & Umeda, S. (2011). How does interoceptive awareness interact with the subjective experience of emotion? An fMRI Study Human Brain Mapping DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21458
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