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Psychol Sci. 2016 Nov;27(11):1428-1442. Epub 2016 Sep 26.

Emotions in "Black and White" or Shades of Gray? How We Think About Emotion Shapes Our Perception and Neural Representation of Emotion.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Pomona College ajay.satpute@pomona.edu.
2
Department of Neuroscience, Pomona College.
3
Department of Psychology, Harvard University.
4
Department of Psychology, Columbia University.

Abstract

The demands of social life often require categorically judging whether someone's continuously varying facial movements express "calm" or "fear," or whether one's fluctuating internal states mean one feels "good" or "bad." In two studies, we asked whether this kind of categorical, "black and white," thinking can shape the perception and neural representation of emotion. Using psychometric and neuroimaging methods, we found that (a) across participants, judging emotions using a categorical, "black and white" scale relative to judging emotions using a continuous, "shades of gray," scale shifted subjective emotion perception thresholds; (b) these shifts corresponded with activity in brain regions previously associated with affective responding (i.e., the amygdala and ventral anterior insula); and (c) connectivity of these regions with the medial prefrontal cortex correlated with the magnitude of categorization-related shifts. These findings suggest that categorical thinking about emotions may actively shape the perception and neural representation of the emotions in question.

KEYWORDS:

affect; categorization; emotions; neuroimaging; social cognition

PMID:
27670663
PMCID:
PMC5111864
DOI:
10.1177/0956797616661555
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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