Category: Emotion

Here’s How The Brain Responds When We Feel Our Parents’ Joy

By Emma Young

You scrape off the panels on a lottery scratch card… and you’re a winner! Brain imaging would show a burst of activity in a region called the nucleus accumbens, in the ventral striatum, a region known to code the impact of reward-related stimuli, such as getting money. But how the brain handles so-called vicarious joy — the type you might feel if you scraped winning panels from a relative’s scratch card, or even a stranger’s — is not well understood. Now a new study, published in Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience, shows that while there are similarities, there are also some important differences. Notably, the participants’ brains responded differently when they won money for their mother versus their father.

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Study Finds People Who Played Video Games For Longer Had Greater Wellbeing (But Direction Of Causality Isn’t Yet Clear)

Photo: A user plays Animal Crossing, one of the games studied in the new research. William West/AFP via Getty Images

By Matthew Warren

Video games get blamed for a lot. There are long-standing debates about whether violence in video games leads to real-world aggression, or whether video game “addiction” is something we should worry about. And some people have broader fears that more time spent on screens negatively affects our mental health and wellbeing.

However, an increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.

Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.

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Not Too Scary, Not Too Tame: Horror Experiences Need To Hit A “Sweet Spot” To Be Enjoyable

By Matthew Warren

You’re walking through a dark, dingy house. Floorboards creak and you think you hear something moving in the shadows. Suddenly, an engine revs and a blood-splattered man wearing a pig’s head lunges towards you with a chainsaw. You scream and run away. Terrifying, perhaps — but it also sounds kind of fun, right?

We generally think of fear as a negative emotion — something that signals danger and which is unpleasant to experience. Yet so many of us seek out situations that make us scared: haunted fairground rides, scary video games, and horror movies and novels. And now researchers have looked at exactly how the experience of fear is related to our enjoyment of this kind of “recreational horror”. Writing in Psychological Science, the team finds that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to creating a scary but enjoyable experience: if you end up feeling too little fear — or too much — then it’s not quite as fun.

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Being More Authentic On Social Media Could Improve Your Wellbeing

By Emily Reynolds

It’s become somewhat of a truism that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on social media. Where someone’s life looks perfect, we’re often reminded, there are probably a handful of problems silently situated away from the camera. Nobody’s life is as shiny, flawless, or enviable as it might appear in their carefully curated feed.

But presenting ourselves more authentically on social media — ditching those things we want to believe are true about ourselves in favour of those that are — could be good for our wellbeing, according to a new paper in Nature Communications by Erica R. Bailey from Columbia University and colleagues.

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Children Can Acquire Fear Vicariously, By Watching Their Parents’ Reactions

By Emma Young

How do children learn to fear things that aren’t obviously scary, but that do pose a threat — to learn, say, that touching the base of a lit barbecue is a very bad idea, so should never be done? A parent might explain that it’s dangerously hot. But as a new paper published in Scientific Reports explores in detail, we also benefit from another more direct, wordless method of learning about threats. Or rather, we may typically benefit from it — but, Marie-France Marin at the University of Quebec and her colleagues argue, it might also help to explain how anxiety disorders are transmitted down through generations.

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People From Japan May Be Less Prone Than Americans To Some Of The Harmful Health-Related Effects Of Negative Emotions

By Emma Young

What’s your view on feelings of sadness, nervousness or hopelessness? Are they harmful emotions that we should strive to avoid feeling — an opinion that is widely held in the West? Or is natural, even helpful, to feel them from time to time — a perspective commonly found in Japan?

Previous studies have found that cultural attitudes to our emotions affect our health. In Japan, for example, greater reported happiness isn’t associated with better health, in contrast to findings from the US. Also, regular experience of high-energy, high-arousal states is associated with better health in the US, but not Japan, where calm, quiet states are highly valued. 

Now a study published in the journal Emotion reveals that our attitudes to negative emotions, such as sadness and hopelessness, matter, too. Previous studies have linked experience of these emotions to increased inflammation and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and even death among Americans, but not Japanese people. So Jiyoung Park at the University of Texas at Dallas and her colleagues set out to explore whether differences in stress might explain this. If, in contrast to Japanese people, Americans view the experience of negative emotions as a failure of self-control, and feel stress as a result, this could explain the links between these kinds of emotions and poorer health. 

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“Awe Walks” Can Boost Positive Emotions Among Older Adults

By Emma Young

After the age of about 75, people tend to feel more anxiety, sadness and loneliness, and less in the way of positive emotion. Strategies to prevent or at least counteract these deteriorations are badly needed, and new research by a team in the US, published in the journal Emotion, has now identified one apparently promising strategy: so-called “awe walks”.

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Seeing Red Or Feeling Blue? People Around The World Make Similar Associations Between Colours And Emotions

By Emma Young

As an English-speaker, I might “see red” with anger, go “green” with envy or, on a bad day, “feel blue”. To me, it seems natural to associate certain colours with particular emotions — but is the same true for people around the world? And if so, do we all make the same emotion/colour matchings? These questions have been investigated in a new study, published in Psychological Science, which has produced some fascinating results.

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Here’s How The Experience Of Regret Develops Through Childhood

By Emma Young

Edith Piaf famously regretted nothing. But regret is an important emotion, because it can lead us to avoid repeating mistakes, or to heal damaged relationships. It’s also an emotion that many of us feel on a regular basis. “Regret is ubiquitous and powerful,” write Teresa McCormack at Queen’s University Belfast and colleagues in a new paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. “It is one of the most frequently mentioned emotions in conversation and affects a huge variety of everyday choices.”

Though there’s been plenty of work on regret in adults, much less is known about how it develops in children. In this new review, McCormack and her colleagues consider what we do know about its development, and outline the major gaps still left to fill. There are implications not just for the basic understanding of regret but also for informing educators in nurseries and schools. After all, even young children are expected to feel bad about harming others — but, depending on their age, there are limits to just what they can feel in such a scenario.

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Babies’ Moods Can Determine How Well They Remember Things They’ve Learned

By Matthew Warren

One of the classic findings in memory research is that we’re better at remembering information when we’re in a similar context to that in which we learned it. This was perhaps most famously demonstrated in a 1975 study, which found that people who learned a list of words while scuba diving had better memory for the words when again underwater, compared to when on land (similarly, those who had learned the list on land were better at remembering it on land).

But it’s not just the external environment that matters: our internal states can also provide memory cues. For instance, people who were intoxicated when learning information were better at recalling that information when drunk than when sober, and there’s also evidence that our recall is better when our mood matches how we felt at learning.

Now a new study published in Child Development has found that the same is true even of babies in their first year of life. The findings have implications for understanding infant memory — and could even help to explain why we can’t remember anything from our early years.

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