How Do We Understand Emotions? A Neural Basis for Emotion Recognition
... it is believed that emotion recognition is innate and universal, it is an ability that is learned over a lifetime. The ability to recognize emotional signals is critical for social interactions and necessary for social development, so how are people able to recognize emotional stimuli in their environment and therefore learn basic and complex emotions? There are several cortical and subcortical structures in the brain that are involved in the recognition of emotional stimuli, some involved in a specifically designed neural network to recognize facial expressions. Facial expressions such as smiles provide the greatest emotional cues for emotion recognition. Emotions such as sadness, fear, and happiness are processed and interpreted within an expansive neural network including the orbitofrontal cortex and cerebral regions such as the insula, the basal ganglia, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala. It is the combination of these structures processing the information from the external environment (such as someone frowning) that allows us to evaluate emotional stimuli and regulate our social and emotional behaviour to know how we should respond or react.
Since emotion recognition relies on a large scale distributed network, it is not entirely clear how this interaction leads to recognition of emotion. However, studies have illustrated that lesions or damage to these cortical and subcortical structures involved in the recognition of facial expressions can lead to impairments in the recognition of basic emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger. The next time you are interacting with someone or are involved in a conversation, take the time to observe and consider how their facial expression changing from a smile to a frown can completely change how we choose to interact with that individual.
written by Orla Tyrrell, Special Needs Supervisor / SPP facilitator BODiWORKS Institute