affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

The Power of Verbalizing Emotions

Ever wonder why it makes you feel better to talk with friends, see a counselor, or write in your journal when you’re upset? Naming or labeling emotions reduces their intensity and helps make them easier to deal with…

UCLA psychologists used brain imaging to discover how assigning a word or label to an emotion affects the way certain portions of the brain (in this case the amygdala and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) respond to emotions. Study participants were shown pictures of faces expressing strong emotions and asked to describe those emotions in words.

Even when shown subliminally, a particular portion of participants’ brains displayed a measurable reaction to facial expressions. This portion, the amygdala, “serves as an alarm to activate a cascade of biological systems to protect the body in times of danger.” Anger is a potent signal to the amygdala. But labeling an emotion (such as “anger”) expressed by another person reduced the response of the amydala and heightened the response of the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, an area “that has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression and moderating correct social behavior.”

Do you really need to know what portions of the brain are responsible to experience for the positive effects of labelling emotions? No. Just remember that sharing the burden of negative emotions cuts the load in half, while sharing a positive emotional experience doubles the pleasure.

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