The study involved 147 participants, ages 18 to 85. The subjects performed a simple cognitive task of determining which direction an arrow was pointed while faces with different emotions were presented in the background.
“We found that when faces emoting anger were presented as distractors, they significantly slowed simple cognitive responses in lonelier individuals. This meant that lonelier individuals paid more attention to threatening stimuli, such as the angry faces.”
“For wisdom, on the other hand, we found a significant positive relationship for response speeds when faces with happy emotions were shown, specifically individuals who displayed wiser traits, such as empathy, had speedier responses in the presence of happy stimuli.”
Electroencephalogram (EEG)-based brain recordings showed that the part of the brain called the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) was activating differently in lonelier versus wiser individuals. TPJ is important for processing theory of mind, or the degree of capacity for empathy and understanding of others. The study found it more active in the presence of angry emotions for lonelier people and more active in the presence of happy emotions for wiser people.
Researchers also noted greater activity to threatening stimuli for lonelier individuals in the left superior parietal cortex, the brain region important for allocating attention, while wisdom was significantly related to enhanced happy emotion-driven activity in the left insula of the brain, responsible for social characteristics like empathy.
“This study shows that the inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom that we found in our previous clinical studies is at least partly embedded in neurobiology and is not merely a result of subjective biases,” said study author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“These findings are relevant to the mental and physical health of individuals because they give us an objective neurobiological handle on how lonelier or wiser people process information,” said Mishra. “Having biological markers that we can measure in the brain can help us develop effective treatments. Perhaps we can help answer the question, ‘Can you make a person wiser or less lonely?’ The answer could help mitigate the risk of loneliness.”
The authors say next steps include a longitudinal study and an intervention study.
“Ultimately, we think these evidence-based cognitive brain markers are the key to developing better health care for the future that may address the loneliness epidemic,” said Mishra.
2 responses to “How brain processes emotions could help answer loneliness epidemic”
That’s a very interesting article and I am glad you provided a link to it. I will settle down and read it in detail a little later on. There is so much yet to learn about how the mind and the brain work. The other day I watched a video on the mind. It’s quite separate to the brain in terms of function. The mind was defined as: “Think; Feel; Choose.” and it was also stated that the neurones that fire together wire together.
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Thanks, Paul. Nice to hear from you.