Some people cannot get away from one minor annoyance during the day, while others forget about minor problems relatively easily. Scientists from the University of Miami have discovered one of the mechanisms that explain this phenomenon.
“Most neurological research has focused on how intensely the brain reacts to negative stimuli, rather than how long it holds on to them. We paid attention to how the emotional coloring of one event spreads to others. Understanding biological mechanisms is critical to understanding the links between brain function, emotions and psychological well-being during the day, ”explained Aaron Heller of the University of Miami, co-author of the study.
Scientists analyzed data from 52 people who participated in the MIDUS study, which monitored the psychological health of participants for many years. They looked for a link between how people assessed their emotional state during the day and the data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In particular, the researchers were interested in the activity of the amygdala of the participants.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that plays a role in assessing hazards and unpleasant events. It keeps the memory of emotionally charged events. If an unpleasant event happens, then the amygdala can remain active to respond to new events – sometimes useful in dangerous situations. But this mechanism helps much less when something insignificant happened, for example, a cup of morning coffee toppled over on clothes.
During fMRI, study participants were shown a variety of images that could elicit positive or negative reactions. In some people, nerve activity in the amygdala persisted longer after negative images than in others.
FMRI data correlated with the psychological state of people during the day. For one week, the participants were asked in detail every day about what kind of stressful situations they face, what positive and negative emotions they experience during the day. Longer activity of the left amygdala after negative images has been observed in people who experience more negative emotions in real life. These people generally had a more negative emotional outlook on the world.
“Perhaps in people with greater inertia in the activity of the amygdala, negative moments are amplified or projected onto unrelated events, which are then accepted with a negative assessment,” the scientists write.
Based on fMRI data, scientists were able to predict the subjective psychological state of a small group of study participants seven years after its start.
“It can be described as follows. The longer the brain holds on to a negative event, the less happy a person feels. To summarize, we found that the duration of responses to negative stimuli predicts more negative emotional experiences. In turn, it helps predict how a person is going through life, ”said Nikki Puccetti of the University of Miami, co-author of the study.
In further research, the researchers want to test whether prolonged amygdala activity is associated with the risk of depression or anxiety disorder.