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It is not difficult to think that a particularly strong emotional state can cause increased brain activity, especially in adolescents. The finding is interesting especially when compared to other mechanisms that put our brains to work, mechanisms, however, that require less participation than emotion processing. This issue has been the focus of a very interesting research study resulting from a collaboration between IRCCS Medea and the Bosisio Parini Pole of the same institute, with the IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico Foundation and the University of Milan, published in the journal Brain and Cognition.

The experiment

The research subjects were a group of boys between the ages of 14 and 19. They were asked to mentally read, in two distinct stages, first emotional verbs and then verbs describing actions. In both cases the subjects had to imagine themselves in the corresponding situations. From the study of MRIs performed on the boys who took part in the experiment, it was found that interaction with verbs describing emotional situations causes increased activation in two precise areas of the brain.

According to the project manager, Barbara Tomasino, the areas of the brain that are most “activated” during this phase are those where, according to the expert’s words, “emotional awareness related to parts of our body is encoded, such as when sweating increases due to a state of anxiety or the heart rate speeds up due to fear.” This whole mechanism is not activated when the brain is busy decoding verbs that describe actions or an emotional situation but with a cognitive task, such as identifying a specific letter within the verb. In fact, as Barbara Tomasino also states, “Therefore, it is not enough to think of the verb to love for the brain areas involved in decoding this emotional experience to be activated, but the feelings corresponding to love must also be imagined.”

This particular brain activity, which is strongly present in boys, also occurs in adult brains, but with less intensity. Finally, according to Paolo Brambilla of the University of Milan, this very interesting study “paves the way toward investigating those emotional situations often found in psychopathology in children and adults suffering from anxiety, phobias or depression.”

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