How Do We Understand Emotions? A Neural Basis for Emotion Recognition
In any social interactions, one person typically provides a behavioural response to the social cues of another person. It is the ability to accurately recognize and process the emotions of others, that provides people with the skills and ability to have positive and socially appropriate interactions and relationships. We may sometimes not realize how important the emotional aspect of a conversation is for conveying a message to another person. Often, a smile or frown can completely change how others will evaluate our moods, attitudes, and it will influence how they choose to approach us of interact with us.
... it is believed that emotional 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.
The lack of the connection to understanding 'social context' as we call it, leads to misunderstandings about rules, feelings, thoughts, trends, life skills, self care and others.
Since emotional recognition relies on a large scale distributed network in the brain, 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. We see this impairment in those with Global physical/intellectual delays, Autism and acquired brain injury.
If an individual with challenges is "worked" with for 'social context' intervention (look for our SP Program), we find vast improvement in their ability to recognize others emotions appropriately. This translates into better social relationships, relatability and rule following. This will therefore decrease overall anxiety as we know that impairs the ability for comprehension of 'social context'. Today with the 'mask wearing' it has made it even more challenging to perceive emotions or learn about relationships.
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. It may be an inaccurate response as it relates to what you are conveying!