Brain basis of emotion

Neuroimaging studies
Some of our research uses neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging; fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate the neural processes at play when individuals are experiencing emotions in real time. Our previous research revealed that when people are experiencing and perceiving emotions, there is increased activity in a set of brain networks that support very basic psychological processes such as representing body changes, accessing and using memory and knowledge, and deploying attention (Kober, Barrett, Bliss-Moreau, Lindquist et al. 2008, NeuroImage; Lindquist, et al. 2012, Behavioral and Brain Sciences). These same networks also show increased activation when individuals experience other mental states such as body feelings or thoughts in reaction to a set of scenarios (Oosterwijk, Lindquist, et al., 2012; NeuroImage). Our on-going research supported by the National Science Foundation continues to explore the functional dynamics of these neural networks as individuals experience emotions in real time using both spatially sensitive measures (fMRI) and temporally sensitive measures (EEG). We are particularly interested in the functional dynamics of these brain networks as they differ within individuals across emotional situations (e.g., across multiple instances of fear) or across individuals from different cultural backgrounds (e.g., individuals from the US v. China).

For a recent paper, see Oosterwijk et al. 2015

This line of research employs meta-analysis to summarize the neuroimaging literature on emotion. Meta-analysis is a useful tool for understanding which brain regions consistently show increased activation during emotional experiences and perceptions, and whether activity in a given brain region is specific to a certain emotional experience or perception, or general to many emotions and other mental states. Across several meta-analyses, we have demonstrated that the brain regions that show an increase in emotional experience and perception are not specific to any one type of emotion (e.g., anger v. fear v. disgust, etc.) (Kober et al. 2008; NeuroImage; Lindquist et al. 2012; Behavioral and Brain Sciences). Rather, it appears that the same brain regions activated during emotions are part of neural networks that play domain-general functions in the human brain and are active during other emotional and cognitive mental states (Lindquist & Barrett, 2012; Trends in Cognitive Sciences). Our on-going research continues to employ meta-analysis to understand questions about the neural representation of emotions and the mind more generally. This research can inform us about the set of brain regions that are involved in healthy emotional experiences and can explain how the brain ultimately implements the rich fabric of our mental lives.

For a recent paper, see Lindquist et al. 2016

Knowledge about emotion

Language and emotion
This line of research focuses on how knowledge about emotions is acquired via language and how the words someone knows for emotion categories (e.g., "anger," "disgust," "fear." "joy," "pride") shapes his or her experiences and perceptions of emotion. Our prior work has focused in part on how accessible emotion words shape pleasant and unpleasant feelings into experiences of emotion (Lindquist & Barrett, 2008; Psychological Science) or perceptions of pleasant and unpleasant facial actions into perceptions of specific emotional expressions in others (Lindquist et al. 2006, Emotion; Gendron, Lindquist et al., 2012, Emotion; Lindquist et al. 2014, Emotion). We are currently assessing the mechanisms by which words support emotion concepts and how linguistic concepts shape the online perception of novel emotions on others’ faces. Understanding how individuals acquire and use linguistic concepts during emotion experiences and perceptions has vast import for understanding various forms of psychopathology, emotional intelligence, socio-emotional development, and social communication.

For a recent paper, see Lindquist et al. 2015

More complex knowledge, more complex emotions
In this line of research, we are interested in understanding why some individuals experience their emotions as discrete and specific (e.g., "anger" v. "fear" or "joy" v. "pride") and why others experience their emotions as general and vague (e.g., good or bad). We have hypothesized that differences in the complexity of emotional experiences stems in part from differences in the complexity of someone's knowledge about emotions (Lindquist & Barrett, 2008; Handbook of Emotions). We are currently assessing the psychological mechanisms that cause some individuals to experience their emotions as relatively more v. less complex. We are particularly interested in why negative emotions tend to be more complex than positive emotions and the implications of this for well being and social functioning. Together, this research will allow us to better understand avenues by which a person could increase the complexity of his or her emotional experiences.

Body states

Body states shape emotional experiences
Research in this line focuses on how body states shape emotional experiences. It is common sense that the body is involved in emotion--our hearts beat, breathing increases, and palms sweat during fear and excitement and our heartbeat and breathing slows during calmness and depression. Yet we are interested in how these states might help create an emotional experience in the first place when they are made meaningful as an emotion as opposed to a mere body change. These findings have important implications for psychopathology, stress, and coping.

For a recent paper, see MacCormack & Lindquist, in press