Think of everything you know about emotions. What words pop into your mind when I say “emotions”?
Feelings? Thoughts? Or maybe psychology’s new favorite buzzword, emotional intelligence?
Well, everything you know about psychology and emotions is about to change.
Emotions are the driving force behind all our actions. You might argue that it’s your thoughts that drive you to make certain decisions and not emotions. No. Only 5% of energy metabolized in your brain is associated with rational thinking; the other 95% goes to subconscious and emotional mechanisms. You don’t order takeout when you “decide” you’re hungry, but when you “feel” hunger creeping up.
The Science of Emotions is not a new subject in the psychology domain. There are hundreds to thousands of studies done on what makes us tick. However, AgileBrain brings you a new perspective on the Science of Emotions. We don’t talk about emotional intelligence, an idea grounded in the presumption that you know you’re good at reading emotions. Nope.
Instead, we believe in measuring emotions based on the 12 core emotional needs that have been consistently identified in the psychological literature, and grounded in neuroscience.
In this article, we decode the science of emotions from an unprecedented angle, and help you understand:
- What emotions really are
- Why image-based assessments are ideal
- What is an emotional measurement (should this come in 2nd place above?)
- How to measure your emotional needs with an image assessment
Decoding The Science of Emotions
The American Psychological Association (APA) defined emotion as “a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral and physiological elements.” Here’s what it means in layman’s language.
Emotional needs are what drive us to deal with situations in our own unique way. It’s the mental reactions to external stimuli, such as subjective experiences, objects, and people that often come with physiological and behavioral changes in our bodies. Remember the oh-so-familiar knot in the stomach that you experience every time you’re anxious or nervous? That’s an instance of bodily symptom of an emotional process
The three components of emotional experiences are;
- A physiological response
- A behavioral response
- A subjective experience
Many use the words “feelings” and “emotions” almost interchangeably. They’re not the same. The prime difference between the two is that feelings are subjective conscious experiences, and emotional processes are subconscious. Feelings are the conscious manifestations of subconscious emotions. Do you think it’s your rational thoughts that are helping you make good or bad decisions? Wrong. It’s your subconscious mind and its underlying emotions.
One who masters emotions, masters their feelings and thoughts.
But before we get to the point where we are the master of our own emotions (which is completely possible), it’s vital to understand the whole science of emotions, including dissecting the parts of the brain that control our emotions, and thus, assist us in making decisions.
What Creates Emotions?
Everything we do, everything we think, everything we say, and everything we are can be traced back to our brains.
From the movement of our fingers to deciding which pizza topping you want to order, your brain is the one that does everything. Naturally, it’s the all-powerful brain that creates emotions, too.
Emotions are complex and arise from the interplay of various brain structures. Here are some of the primary brain structures associated with emotion:
- Amygdala: The amygdala plays a crucial role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions. It’s particularly involved in the perception of fear and the triggering of the body’s fight-or-flight response.
- Hippocampus: Located near the amygdala, the hippocampus is primarily associated with memory, but it also plays a role in attaching emotions to those memories.
- Hypothalamus: This structure regulates physiological responses to emotions and stress, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone release. It’s deeply involved in the body’s autonomic responses to emotional stimuli.
- Thalamus: It acts as a relay station for sensory information. Before sensory data reaches the cortex for processing, it’s relayed through the thalamus, which has connections to the amygdala. This allows for rapid emotional responses to sensory input even before we’re consciously aware of the stimulus.
- Cingulate Cortex: Part of the limbic system, the cingulate cortex is involved in processing emotions and regulating aggressive behavior. The anterior part of the cingulate cortex (anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC) is particularly involved in detecting errors and resolving conflicts.
- Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC): Located behind the eyes, the OFC is involved in decision-making and expectation. It plays a role in processing the reward value of stimuli and is involved in feelings of regret and reinforcement learning.
- Prefrontal Cortex: This region, especially the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is involved in the evaluation of risks and rewards, decision-making, and the regulation of emotions. It helps in controlling impulsive reactions and plays a role in social emotions like empathy.
- Insula: This structure is involved in the perception of bodily sensations, emotional awareness, and empathy. It plays a role in feelings of disgust and has been implicated in various mood disorders.
- Basal Ganglia: While primarily associated with movement, the basal ganglia also play a role in reward processing and the formation of habits, which can be linked to emotional responses.
- Brainstem: The brainstem, particularly the periaqueductal gray, is involved in certain emotional responses, especially those related to survival, such as the fight-or-flight response.
These structures typically work in a coordinated manner, with multiple areas activated simultaneously during emotional experiences. Emotions are the result of intricate interactions between these regions, as well as the neurotransmitters and hormones they release.
Chemical Mechanics of Your Moods and Emotions
Moods and emotions are intertwined, but they are nevertheless different. Moods have no specific causes, while emotions are responses to specific events. This gives emotions more sharpness and variation than mood. You can be in a good mood or a bad mood, but emotions? Well, they are extensive.
The variations in mood are caused by the release of specific chemicals. The 13 chemicals that play a vital role fall into two broad classes, neurotransmitters and hormones, although some, like norepinephrine and adrenaline, can function both as neurotransmitters and hormones.
- GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid)
- Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline)
- Adrenaline (Epinephrine)[JDP1]
- Role: Involved in memory, learning, and attention. It also plays a role in muscle contraction.
- Effects on Emotions: Imbalances in acetylcholine can be associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments.
- Role: The primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, glutamate is involved in most aspects of brain function, including cognition, memory, and learning.
- Effects on Emotions: Imbalances in glutamate can be linked to various neurological and psychiatric disorders, including mood disorders.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA):
- Role: GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which means it reduces neuronal excitability.
- Effects on Emotions: It plays a role in regulating anxiety. Drugs that enhance GABA activity, such as benzodiazepines, are often prescribed to reduce anxiety.
- Role: Dopamine is associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation.
- Effects on Emotions: It’s released during pleasurable situations, stimulating feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement, which motivates individuals to perform certain activities again.
Dopamine is involved in the brain’s reward system and is linked to feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Low levels of dopamine are associated with feelings of apathy, lack of interest in life, and low motivation. It’s also linked to certain disorders like Parkinson’s disease and some forms of depression.
- Role: Often referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness.
- Effects on Emotions: Low levels of serotonin are linked to feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. Many antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin also plays a role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep.
- Role: Functions both as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It’s involved in the body’s stress response and helps regulate attention, alertness, and arousal.
- Effects on Emotions: Elevated levels can lead to increased alertness and arousal, while low levels can result in decreased attention and focus. It’s also associated with anxiety and mood disorders.
- Role: Often referred to as the body’s “natural painkillers,” endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as analgesics and produce feelings of euphoria.
- Effects on Emotions: They are released during activities like exercise, laughter, and moments of pain, leading to feelings of pleasure and a reduction in pain perception.
- Role: While primarily known for its role in lactation, prolactin also has various functions in the body.
- Effects on Emotions: Elevated levels can affect mood and lead to symptoms like irritability and depression. These chemicals, along with the ones previously mentioned, work in a complex interplay to regulate our emotional responses, mood, and overall behavior. Imbalances in any of these can lead to various emotional and psychological disorders.
- Role: Along with its role in water regulation in the body, vasopressin has been implicated in social behavior and bonding.
- Effects on Emotions: It’s believed to play a role in aggression, bonding, and social recognition.
- Role: Regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
- Effects on Emotions: Proper melatonin regulation is crucial for a healthy sleep pattern. Disruptions in melatonin production or release can lead to sleep disorders, which can subsequently affect mood and emotional well-being.
- Role: Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released in response to stress and low blood glucose.
- Effects on Emotions: Chronic elevated cortisol levels, often due to prolonged stress, can lead to mood disorders, increased anxiety, and impaired cognitive function.
- Role: Often referred to as the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone,” oxytocin plays a role in social bonding, sexual reproduction, and childbirth.
- Effects on Emotions: It’s released in response to touch and during social interactions, promoting bonding and trust. Oxytocin is known to enhance feelings of empathy, trust, and social bonding. It’s released in significant amounts during childbirth, facilitating mother-child bonding. It can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and promote feelings of calm and closeness.
- Role: Adrenaline is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that prepares the body for “fight-or-flight” in stressful situations.
- Effects on Emotions: It increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. It can lead to heightened awareness, increased strength and performance, and a rush of excitement – sometimes referred to as an “adrenaline rush.” Chronic exposure to high levels of adrenaline (due to prolonged stress) can lead to feelings of anxiety, irritability, and unease.
The release of these chemicals, also known as the neurotransmitters, is controlled by – no points for guessing- the Brain. These neurotransmitters communicate with the other parts of the brain to calm or stimulate us, resulting in a change in our mood, emotions, and/or behavior. Making too little or too much of these chemicals can cause a chemical imbalance, which can lead to mood disorders, or mental health conditions, especially if left untreated.
Low and high serotonin levels, for example, can make you happy or sad, and several factors influence the level of serotonin your body produces. Consuming tryptophan-containing foods, getting sunlight, taking supplements, getting exercise, and lowering stress levels are the main contributors to increased serotonin.
A Peek Into Emotional Triggers
Did you ever walk by someone and smell a fragrance that was worn by your former partner, and immediately feel a sense of familiarity, whether good or bad? The fragrance triggered an emotion in you.
One of the most crucial aspects of the science of emotions is understanding emotional triggers. Knowing what these are, and what your personal emotional triggers are can help gain some semblance of control over your emotions. Emotional triggers could be anything, ranging from words, sounds, smells, and even colors. These triggers can encourage an emotional response in us such as excitement, anger, sadness or anxiety.
Every emotional trigger is followed by an emotional response. They are interconnected with our experiences, thoughts, and memories. In the example I gave before, the fragrance evoked a memory in you, good or bad. The interesting part is, we humans tend to connect a previous interaction with a specific emotional trigger in the current scenario too. Let’s say you had a horrific experience with a spider as a child. The experience may have been a one-time thing, but it could’ve left a deep-rooted impact on you, that you get emotionally triggered (in the form of fear), every time you see a spider now. It brings up horrifying memories for you.
Here’s how it works:*
- You encounter a stimulus.
- The body has an immediate physiological reaction.
- The brain detects this physiological change.
- This interpretation leads to the subjective feeling.
- You then exhibit a behavioral response based on the combined physiological response and psychological feelings.
This sequence of emotions (physiological, psychological, and behavioral) gets stored in memory and associated with the stimulus, which serves as a potential future trigger for those feelings and behaviors.
If your go-to emotional response every time you had a remotely negative experience was crying as a child, you may carry forward that behavior well into adulthood. When we identify our own emotional triggers, and separate unhealthy ones from healthy ones, we can change negative emotional triggers, and pick a more healthy and helpful response and coping mechanism. \
*Of course, emotions can be triggered through multiple paths: from physiological changes and/or cognitive interpretations, often in parallel or in a feedback loop, rather than a strict linear sequence.
Identifying And Managing Your Emotional Triggers
The first step to being able to control your emotions and emotional response to external stimuli is to identify your emotional triggers. If your reaction to an experience, person, object, or behavior is often emotionally intense, that behavior is a trigger for you.
Some potential emotional triggers are as follows:
- Whining and blaming
- Passive aggression
- Criticizing or judging
- Anger and hostility
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Silent treatment
- People pleasing
- Victim mentality
- Sadness, depression, and withdrawal
- Deceit and lying
Some of the reactions to emotional triggers are anger, sadness, shame and guilt, defensiveness, hostility, frustration, fear, or any other intense emotion. When we understand the specific triggers and our unhealthy emotional response to them, we can pick our reactions more objectively. We can do so by exploring the way we interpret the meaning of that trigger and the learned emotional response. Think about an emotional trigger of yours and your typical emotional response to it. Go down memory lane and think about the previous times you behaved the exact same way and ask yourself why. Try to lean in to a healthier way of dealing with the same emotional trigger. Over time, with a lot of practice, you can gain a degree of control over your thoughts, feelings, and, importantly, your behaviors.
The Power of Image-Based Assessment in Evaluating Emotions
Another way to control our emotions is to learn about them. People often measure or assess emotions by reading facial expressions, or body language.These are symptoms of emotions, which evolved to help with social coordination, rather than emotions themselves.
Image-based assessment is a prime way of assessing someone’s emotional state and needs. Agile Brain has curated a fun and comprehensive assessment that provides a quantitative and qualitative picture of your emotional needs and motivations, as well as the language and framework necessary to understand and communicate them.
The reason our assessment is grounded on visuals is because of the power of images when it comes to understanding and evaluating emotions.
1. Visual Language of Emotions
Visual cues have been an integral part of human communication since ancient times. Our brains are naturally wired to interpret and respond to visual information rapidly. This inherent ability to decode emotions from visual stimuli makes image-based assessments particularly effective.
2. Universality of Core Human Needs
Image-based assessments capitalize on the universality of emotional needs. Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that the same set of emotional needs are universally expressed, although to varying degrees across cultures. This universality ensures that image-based assessments can transcend linguistic and cultural barriers, making them applicable to diverse populations.
3. Objective Quantification
One of the significant advantages of image-based assessments is their potential for objective quantification. This quantification enables researchers and practitioners to derive valuable insights and trends from large datasets, contributing to the development of evidence-based interventions and strategies.
4. Richness of Data
Images capture a moment in time, preserving a richness of data that verbal descriptions often struggle to convey.Complex emotional needs can be immediately communicated through images, which might be missed in verbal or text-based assessments.
5. Real-time Monitoring
The dynamic nature of emotions is better captured through real-time monitoring using image-based assessments. Individuals can react to stimuli instantaneously, allowing researchers to observe emotional changes as they unfold. This real-time aspect is particularly useful in therapeutic settings, enabling therapists to gauge their clients’ progress and tailor interventions accordingly.
The utilization of image-based assessments in evaluating emotions represents a paradigm shift in the field of emotion research and application. AgileBrain leverages these advantages by incorporating images into a fast, fun assessment of 12 core human needs: Potential, Success, Recognition, Purpose, Authenticity, Immersion, Caring, Ethics, Safety, Autonomy, Inclusion and Justice.
Mastering Your Emotions: A Roadmap to Self-Regulation and Personal Growth
Throughout history, eminent thinkers like David Hume, Baruch Spinoza, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James, along with modern luminaries like Sigmund Freud and contemporary neuroscientists and psychologists, have emphasized the profound influence of our feelings on our thoughts and behaviors. But does this mean we are slaves to our emotions? Thankfully, the answer is no. Our rational faculties, housed in System 2 thinking, provide us with the power to manage our emotions. However, this isn’t a walk in the park. Many of us find ourselves on “emotional autopilot,” reacting to emotional cues without conscious control.
Our society grapples with a myriad of emotional regulation issues, from addiction and criminality to depression and anxiety. These issues often lie at the root of our most pressing social problems. So, how can we enlist our conscious intentions to control our emotions and, in turn, our behavior? There are several approaches, all beginning with heightened awareness of our feelings, their accurate labeling, and creating some distance to work with them.
In mainstream psychology, two primary methods for emotional regulation have emerged: Emotional Intelligence and Emotion Regulation. Emotional Intelligence, popularized by Daniel Goleman, focuses on perceiving and responding to emotions effectively as a personality trait. On the other hand, Emotion Regulation, championed by James J. Gross, is a state-based approach that dissects the process of emotional manifestation, emphasizing coping strategies like avoidance and distraction.
Recent research, combining both approaches, reveals that individuals with strong emotional intelligence start regulating their emotions early in the emotional process, employing various coping strategies. They can down-regulate emotions when necessary while maintaining flexibility for other emotions to emerge.
Surprisingly, neither tradition delves much into the content of the emotions themselves. Emotional Intelligence asks how well you deal with emotions, while Emotion Regulation examines the process of dealing with emotions. A new model, focused on emotional needs, seeks to fill this gap by asking, “Exactly how are you feeling?” With this goal in mind, let’s explore an idealized process for dealing with your emotions as they arise:
Hear the Call
Emotions serve as guideposts for correcting imbalances between what is and what should be. They direct our attention, prepare us for action, and signal the urgency of the situation. If the response is clear and effective, trust your feelings; if not, pause and reflect before acting.
Recognize and Name It
Putting emotions into words, called affect labeling, has significant psychological benefits. It lowers amygdala activation, reducing emotional intensity, distress, and physical symptoms. Whenever you feel an overwhelming emotion, instead of suppressing it, it’s crucial to put a label on it. Sad, angry, agitated, afraid, fearful, happy, excited, horrified, the English language is jam-packed with words that can aptly describe each and every feeling you experience.
Accept Feelings as Information
Emotions provide valuable information about the intensity, pleasantness, and approach-avoidance tendencies of a situation. They signal whether emotional needs are fulfilled or blocked. By re-focusing our attention on our emotional needs, rather than symptomatic emotions (surface emotions that indicate towards a deeper emotional need), we tend to navigate our feeings better, and process them more effectively.
Question the Helpful-ness of Your Emotional Needs
Evaluate whether fulfilling an emotional need is genuinely beneficial or if it stems from unhealthy cravings and fears. Identify and name these negative emotional goals. By labeling the emotion, we take away its power over us, and exert our own power over it. This helps us create a more helpful roadmap to regulate our emotions.
Enhance or Replace (Substitution and Elevation)
Substitute harmful emotional goals with contrary, healthier feelings that are more influential and triggered by reason. Feed the positive wolf within you.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Achieving emotional self-transcendence requires preparation, diligence, and practice. Break the automatic triggers-emotions cycle by identifying and reframing your reactions.
After intense practice and reflection, you can confidently “let go of the reins.” Be open to possibilities and reduce fear, moving from active striving to relaxed receptivity.
Incorporating these steps into your life may not be easy, but the rewards are profound. You’ll form a new habit, gaining control over your emotions and ultimately mastering yourself. By understanding and regulating your emotions, you embark on a journey towards personal growth, resilience, and a life lived to its fullest potential.
A Guide to Measuring Emotions
Emotions are the colorful palette of our inner world, shaping our thoughts, actions, and decisions. From the elation of success to the depths of sorrow, understanding emotions is crucial not just for personal growth but also for fields like psychology, marketing, and user experience design. But how do we measure these ephemeral feelings that drive our lives? In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating world of emotion measurement.
Why Measure Emotions?
Before we dive into the methods, let’s ponder why measuring emotions is essential. Emotions are fundamental to human experience and behavior. When harnessed effectively, emotional insights can:
Self Improvement: Many of us are working to better ourselves but understanding your current emotional needs is key to enable long term positive change in our lives.
Improve Mental Health: Measuring emotions can help individuals understand and manage their feelings better, leading to improved mental well-being.
Enhance Marketing Strategies: Businesses can gain a competitive edge by understanding customer emotions, tailoring their products, and crafting more compelling marketing campaigns.
Inform Product Design: Designers can create user-friendly products by considering emotional responses and user experiences.
Guide Public Policy: Governments can use emotional data to assess the well-being of citizens and develop policies that cater to emotional needs.
Enrich Psychological Research: Researchers gain deeper insights into human behavior and the complexities of the mind.
Methods of Emotion Measurement
Self-Report Surveys: The most straightforward method involves asking individuals to describe their emotional states. Common tools like the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) rely on self-reports. However, this method is subjective and influenced by the individual’s ability to articulate emotions.
Physiological Measures: Our bodies respond to emotions in distinctive ways. Physiological measures, such as heart rate, skin conductance, and brain activity (via EEG or fMRI), provide objective insights into emotional states. For example, a racing heart might indicate anxiety. However, these measures can be invasive or expensive.
Facial Expression Analysis: Facial expressions are a universal language of emotion. Technologies like facial recognition software can identify emotions by analyzing facial muscle movements. This method is non-invasive and provides real-time data but may have accuracy limitations.
Voice Analysis: Vocal tone, pitch, and cadence can reveal emotional states. Voice analysis software can detect emotions like happiness, sadness, or anger. It’s used in customer service for sentiment analysis but may not capture complex emotions accurately.
Text Analysis: Analyzing written or spoken language can uncover emotional content. Sentiment analysis algorithms categorize text as positive, negative, or neutral. Social media platforms use this method to gauge user sentiment. However, nuances can be challenging to capture.
Behavioral Observations: Researchers observe behavior to infer emotions. This can include tracking body language, eye movements, or interaction patterns. While non-invasive, it requires skilled observers and may not provide real-time data.
Biometric Wearables: Wearable devices like fitness trackers can monitor physiological indicators like heart rate variability, which correlates with emotional changes. These devices offer continuous data collection but may not provide precise emotional states.
Experience Sampling Method (ESM): ESM involves participants reporting their emotions at random intervals throughout the day. It captures real-life emotional fluctuations but relies on self-reports and can be cumbersome.
Neuroimaging: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) allow researchers to observe brain activity linked to emotions. While precise, these methods are expensive and require specialized equipment.
Imagine unlocking the secrets of your mind through a journey that blends art and science seamlessly.
AgileBrain takes inspiration from a rich heritage of exploring the enigmatic realm of implicit motives – those hidden emotional desires that shape who we are. Picture this: an innovative approach that merges vivid images with cutting-edge research, all to reveal the unconscious forces propelling your actions.
In the annals of psychology, image-based methods have been a go-to for delving into the labyrinth of human emotions. Think of it as a historic dance between captivating visuals and the depths of our psyche. Traditionally, participants would look at a series of thought-provoking scenes, translating them into personal interpretations. A subjective voyage, painted in qualitative hues, where meanings were deciphered, coded, and scored. Yet, it came with its own set of challenges – the unpredictable winds of reliability and validity.
Enter AgileBrain, a trailblazing paradigm shift. We’ve developed sets of images, each a mirror to one of the 12 universal emotional needs within the AgileBrain framework. We recognize that motivation isn’t just a one-way street; it can be a tug-of-war between seeking pleasure (“pull”) or avoiding pain (“push”). That’s why we meticulously assess both the cravings for positive states and the repulsion to the negative ones.
AgileBrain stands as a beacon of precision and clarity. No more guessing games with abstract inkblots. Instead, we present you with images that crystalize your emotional yearnings in a tangible, unequivocal manner.
The AgileBrain experience is all about being quick and responsive, believing more in your intuition, than rational thinking. You’d be shown some images in rapid succession, and your job is to complete the sentence by clicking on the images that depict how you want to feel. The simple exercise removes all the psychometric challenges of the rating scale, as you rely on your gut while answering.
So, are you ready to embark on a quest of self-discovery like never before?
Uncover what makes you tick, measure your emotions, manage them, and take better control of your life. Control your emotions before they take control of you. Take our assessment and enhance your quality of life by taking control of your emotions.
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