Jun. 20, 2022

Imagine you are angry, but your partner tells you "You have nothing to be angry about." People often believe that there is no right or wrong when it comes to emotions, given that emotions are deeply subjective. On the other hand, we may judge others' emotional responses as disproportionate, out of place, inappropriate, or as lacking sensitivity. For example, fearing a puppy.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev psychology and brain sciences researchers set out to test how our brain's response to "incorrect" emotions is similar to errors made on perceptual tasks.

Their findings were published recently in the prestigious Psychological Science, among the highest-ranked journals in the field.

The researchers ran a series of experiments that had been carried out previously, but this time they assessed emotional responses. In some of the experiments, 145 participants, all students at Ben-Gurion University, had to assess whether an emotion eliciting photo felt pleasant or unpleasant. They also performed a perceptual task in which they reported the gender of a photo of a face.

The researchers, Ph.D. students Ella Givon and Gal Udelsman-Danieli, under the supervision of Prof. Nachshon Meiran​ (pictured above) of the Department of Psychology, discovered that the brain treats a counter-normative response to the emotion-eliciting photos similarly to an error in the gender perception task. For example, the cognitive-brain response associated with reporting feeling pleasantness in response to a photo that is judged by most people as unpleasant resembled the cognitive-brain response of errors that were made in the gender decision task.

In other words, the brain does seem to treat some emotions as wrong and reacts as if there was an error.

"These results challenge accepted understandings of our emotions," says Ella Givon, "while we may believe that emotions cannot be wrong, our brain and cognition treat them as erroneous."

Additional researchers include: Ophir Almagor, Tomer Fekete and Dr. Oren Shriki.

The research was supported by two Israel Science Foundation grants (Nos. 381/15 and No. 1547/20).

Media Coverage:
The Jewish Press
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