Name that feeling: You'll feel better
20 June 2007
by Julie Steenhuysen
(Reuters) - Putting feelings into words makes sadness and anger
less intense, U.S. brain researchers said on Wednesday, in a finding
that explains why talking to a therapist -- or even a sympathetic
bartender -- often makes people feel better.
talking about negative feelings activates a part of the brain
responsible for impulse control.
of the brain seems to be involved in putting on the brakes," said
University of California, Los Angeles researcher Matthew Lieberman,
whose study appears in the journal Psychological Science.
He and colleagues
scanned the brains of 30 people -- 18 women and 12 men between
18 and 36 -- who were shown pictures of faces expressing strong
asked to categorize the feelings in words like sad or angry, or
to choose between two gender-specific names like "Sally or Harry"
that matched the face.
found is that when people attached a word like angry to an angry-looking
face, the response in the amygdala portion of the brain that handles
fear, panic and other strong emotions decreased.
to dampen down the response in these basic emotional circuits
in the brain -- in this case the amygdala," Lieberman said in
a telephone interview.
up instead is the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, part
of the brain that controls impulses.
the only region of the entire brain that is more active when you
choose an emotion word for the picture than when you choose a
name for the picture," he said.
the same region of the brain has been found in prior studies to
play a role in motor control.
are driving along and you see a yellow light, you have to inhibit
one response in order to step on the brake," he said. "This same
region helps to inhibit emotional responses as well."
may alter the traditional view of why talking about feelings helps.
we all believe that by talking about our feelings, we reach deep
new insights, and that understanding is what transforms us," he
see is something that at first blush is far more trivial. By simply
putting the name to an emotion, the person doesn't feel like they've
come to any new insight. And yet we see this dampening response
said while there likely are benefits to gaining enhanced understanding,
talking about feelings may do something more basic. "It's not
just the deep thoughts," he said.
about the way we are built."