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Brain Scans Can Tell if You Are Happy, Sad, or even Lustful

Update Date: Jun 21, 2013 10:52 AM EDT
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Researchers have studied the brain via brain scan images for decades. Studies have suggested that brain scans could reveal a lot about the individual. For example, some researchers have discovered that the brain scans of sociopaths appear to have very different activity when compared to the brain scans of the average, normal person. According to a new study, brain scans could potentially be used to determine one's emotions, ranging from feelings of joy to feelings of lust.

The research study, with lead author, Karim Kassam, who is an assistant professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, recruited 10 method-acting students from the Carnegie Mellon Drama Community at the University of Pittsburgh. The majority of the sample set was female. The researchers wanted method-actors because they are trained in becoming whichever character is assigned to them. Unlike other actors, method actors tend to stay in character even if they are not acting at the moment.

The research team gave the participants nine emotions, which were anger, disgust, shame, envy, pride, fear, lust, happiness and sadness. The actors had to write scenarios that embodied the emotions so that the actors would associate unique words to the particular emotion. The researcher then recorded their brain activity with a scanner as the participants looked at words one at a time on a screen. The researchers conducted multiple trials for each emotion and participant. For extra insurance that the acting could be a reliable source for testing emotion, the researchers also showed participants 24 images, half of which were disgusting, to see if the actors would respond normally to those disgusting images.

The researchers found that for about 84 percent of the time, the computer was able to correctly guess the emotion displayed based on the levels of brain activity. The researchers found four main factors from the study. First, the researchers found that the computer was the least likely to mix up positive emotions with negative ones. Second, the role of arousal helped separate emotions such as sadness and anger. Third, emotions related to social interactions, such as envy, were more easily separated from one another. Lastly, the researchers found that lust seemed to have a completely unique brain profile in comparison to the other emotions.

"[The study] shows that the difference between the emotions seem to be driven by valence, arousal, and social factors, along with their interesting lust factor," Russell Poldrack, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Austin, Texas, said reported by TIME. Poldrack was not a part of the study. "There is nothing new about this, but these results are a nice confirmation, given that they didn't design the study to find those factors but instead fell out of the data."

These findings are significant because researchers believe that studying brain activity in relation to a wide range of emotions could reveal more about mental illnesses, such as depression. The study was published in PLoS ONE

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