15 February 2006

Emotions vs. Cognition? Ventral vs Dorsal Brain

Here is a report from Eurekalert dealing with the war within. Within what, you ask? Within your own head. Apparently your ventral affective brain is at war with your dorsal cognitive brain. The studies took place at Duke University-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis Center.

In earlier studies, the researchers had found that emotional images activated a "ventral affective system" in the brain that encompasses regions involved in emotional processing. In contrast, they found, cognitive tasks involving memory processes activated a "dorsal executive system." To their surprise, the researchers also found that the emotional distracters not only activated the ventral system, but also deactivated the dorsal regions.

In the new study, the researchers observed the same patterns of activation and deactivation of the regions. The emotional images produced greater activation of the ventral system and deactivation of the dorsal system than did the neutral or scrambled images, they found.

But most importantly, they found graded behavioral effects of the images. The emotional distracters produced the most detrimental effect on memory performance, the neutral distracters impaired performance to a lesser extent; and the scrambled images impaired performance very little. "Along with the fMRI results, these findings provide the first direct evidence concerning the neural mechanisms mediating cognitive interference by emotional distraction," said Dolcos.

Is this really news? Well, in the sense that we are actually seeing it happen on an imaging screen, yes. Does this mean that emotions cannot coexist with cognition? Absolutely not! It is a matter of learning balance and cooperation. Emotions help us learn, help us remember, provide us with insights that the rational parts of the brain cannot give us. But we must understand what happens when we lose our rationality to a storm of feeling. At times, the emotions are wiser than the rational mind. Other times rationality must temporarily override the emotions. Balance, and judgment will see us through.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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