The entire set of our emotions is topographically represented in a small region of the brain, a 3 centimeters area of the cortex, report scientists in a study conducted at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy. The discovery of this "map" of emotions comes from a work conducted by the Molecular Mind Laboratory (MoMiLab) directed by Professor Pietro Pietrini, and recently published in Nature Communications .
To investigate how the brain processes the distinct basic component of emotional states, the IMT School researchers asked a group of 15 volunteers enrolled in the study to express, define and rate their emotions while watching the iconic 1994 American movie Forrest Gump. For the entire length of the film, in fact, the 15 volunteers reported scene by scene their feelings and their respective strength on a scale from 1 to 100. Their answers were then compared to those of 15 other persons who had watched the same movie during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study conducted in Germany. The imaging data were obtained through "open science", a platform where scientists from different laboratories can share their data, so that anyone can replicate their findings or use the data for novel experiments, as in this case.
To unveil cortical regions involved in emotion processing, the "emotional ratings" were used by scientists for predicting the fMRI response of the brain. The correspondence between functional characteristics and the relative spatial arrangement of distinct patches of cortex was then used to test the topography of affective states. As researchers found out, the activation of temporo-parietal brain regions was associated to the affective states we feel in an exact moment, providing us with the map of our emotional experience.
The analysis of the data by Giada Lettieri, first author of the study along with Giacomo Handjaras, both PhD students at the IMT School, and their collaborators shows that the polarity, complexity and intensity of emotional experiences are represented by smooth transitions in right temporo-parietal territories. The spatial arrangement allows the brain to map a variety of affective states within a single patch of cortex. Related Stories
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