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Feb 28, 2017

Bringing more transparency to AI

The development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken giant steps during the last decade, to the point that for many experts, including the world-renowned astrophysics Stephen Hawking and hi-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, AI could even destroy our civilization by overtaking humans. However, on the other side, AI may bring about huge benefits for the humankind, some of which may be still beyond our imagination of today. Thus, the scientific community is faced with the challenge of how we can develop powerful AI systems that support our civilization, preventing, at the same time, the potential side effects of an uncontrolled AI evolution.


To address these challenges, in late September 2016, tech giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM launched a “Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to benefit People and Society”. The new alliance has been established “to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.”

As claimed in the mission statement, a specific goal of the initiative is to help improving public awareness of what is happening in the AI field, where a number of players are shaping the future of intelligent services. Also, the Partnership aims at creating a more inclusive discussion, by extending the participation from AI specialists to activists and experts in other disciplines, such as psychology, philosophy, economics, finance, sociology, public policy, and law, to discuss and provide guidance on emerging issues related to the impact of AI on society.

The Partnership on AI to benefit People and Society has the potential to create a greater multidisciplinary understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with potential breakthroughs in this field; yet, some key players, such as Apple and Elon Musk's OpenAI, - a non-profit AI research project - have not yet joined the club.    

While the goals of the Partnership have been set, the strategy that the alliance intends to put in place to attain these objectives is still unclear. Thus, it is too early to understand how the association will concretely address the challenges that needs to be addressed with the public, i.e., how can AI be safely used to support military activities, or how to deal with the legal responsibilities for any damages caused by AI to humans.

Jan 19, 2017

Facebook Study Finds Introverts Feel More Comfortable with VR Social Interaction

Via RoadToVr

A recent study by Facebook IQ, in which people completed one-on-one conversations in VR, concluded that most people respond positively, and introverts in particular feel more comfortable. Facebook IQ is a team established to assist marketers in understanding the way people communicate online and offline.

Facebook has been exploring the potential of social VR since their famous acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014. More recently, they detailed the results of their social VR avatar experiments and are planning to launch a ‘social VR app’ very soon. A different social experiment was recently completed by Facebook IQ, an internal team who help businesses understand communication trends and advertising effectiveness – asking 60 people to have a one-on-one conversation, half of them being in person, and half being in a VR environment wearing the Oculus Rift.

Interestingly, they didn’t use the VR avatars seen in Facebook’s own demonstrations, nor did they use the Oculus avatars found in the Rift’s menus – instead they used vTime, a popular ‘sociable network’ app available for Rift, Gear VR, Cardboard and Daydream. vTime uses its own full-body avatar system, complete with automatically-animating hands – surprising that these would be used in such an experiment. However, it seems like the main reason for choosing the software was to use its comfortable ‘train cabin’ environment – a familiar and natural place to converse with a stranger – and the focus of the experiment was about vocal communication.


Applied neuroscience company Neurons Inc was commissioned to assist with the study of cognitive and emotional responses; all participants wore high resolution electroencephalography (EEG) scanners, used to record electrical activity in the brain, and eye trackers. With half the group conducting a normal one-to-one conversation in person, and the other half engaged in vTime, Neurons Inc was able to compare the level of comfort and engagement of a VR conversation compared to a conventional one. The eye trackers helped to determine the user’s level of attention, and the EEG scanners were used to assess motivation and cognitive load, based on the level of brain activity. If the load is too low, it means the person is bored; too high and they’re stressed.

According to the report published on Facebook Insights, the participants, who had mostly never tried VR before, were within the ‘optimal range of cognitive effort’, being neither bored nor overstimulated. The cognitive load decreased over time, meaning that people naturally became more comfortable as the conversation progressed. In the interviews that followed, 93% said that they liked their virtual conversation partner, and those who were identified as more introverted responded ‘particularly positively’, being more engaged by meeting in VR than by meeting in person.


Jan 02, 2017

The Potential of Virtual Reality for the Investigation of Awe

The Potential of Virtual Reality for the Investigation of Awe

Alice Chirico, David B. Yaden, Giuseppe Riva and Andrea Gaggioli

Front. Psychol., 09 November 2016 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01766

The emotion of awe is characterized by the perception of vastness and a need for accommodation, which can include a positive and/or negative valence. While a number of studies have successfully manipulated this emotion, the issue of how to elicit particularly intense awe experiences in laboratory settings remains. We suggest that virtual reality (VR) is a particularly effective mood induction tool for eliciting awe. VR provides three key assets for improving awe. First, VR provides users with immersive and ecological yet controlled environments that can elicit a sense of “presence,” the subjective experience of “being there” in a simulated reality. Further, VR can be used to generate complex, vast stimuli, which can target specific theoretical facets of awe. Finally, VR allows for convenient tracking of participants’ behavior and physiological responses, allowing for more integrated assessment of emotional experience. We discussed the potential and challenges of the proposed approach with an emphasis on VR’s capacity to raise the signal of reactions to emotions such as awe in laboratory settings.

Oct 15, 2016

Transforming Experience: The Potential of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Enhancing Personal and Clinical Change

Front. Psychiatry, 30 September 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00164

Giuseppe Riva, Rosa M. Baños, Cristina Botella, Fabrizia Mantovani and Andrea Gaggioli

During life, many personal changes occur. These include changing house, school, work, and even friends and partners. However, the daily experience shows clearly that, in some situations, subjects are unable to change even if they want to. The recent advances in psychology and neuroscience are now providing a better view of personal change, the change affecting our assumptive world: (a) the focus of personal change is reducing the distance between self and reality (conflict); (b) this reduction is achieved through (1) an intense focus on the particular experience creating the conflict or (2) an internal or external reorganization of this experience; (c) personal change requires a progression through a series of different stages that however happen in discontinuous and non-linear ways; and (d) clinical psychology is often used to facilitate personal change when subjects are unable to move forward. Starting from these premises, the aim of this paper is to review the potential of virtuality for enhancing the processes of personal and clinical change. First, the paper focuses on the two leading virtual technologies – augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – exploring their current uses in behavioral health and the outcomes of the 28 available systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Then the paper discusses the added value provided by VR and AR in transforming our external experience by focusing on the high level of personal efficacy and self-reflectiveness generated by their sense of presence and emotional engagement. Finally, it outlines the potential future use of virtuality for transforming our inner experience by structuring, altering, and/ or replacing our bodily self-consciousness. The final outcome may be a new generation of transformative experiences that provide knowledge that is epistemically inaccessible to the individual until he or she has that experience, while at the same time transforming the individual's worldview.

Jun 21, 2016

New book on Human Computer Confluence - FREE PDF!

Two good news for Positive Technology followers.

1) Our new book on Human Computer Confluence is out!

2) It can be downloaded for free here


Human-computer confluence refers to an invisible, implicit, embodied or even implanted interaction between humans and system components. New classes of user interfaces are emerging that make use of several sensors and are able to adapt their physical properties to the current situational context of users.

A key aspect of human-computer confluence is its potential for transforming human experience in the sense of bending, breaking and blending the barriers between the real, the virtual and the augmented, to allow users to experience their body and their world in new ways. Research on Presence, Embodiment and Brain-Computer Interface is already exploring these boundaries and asking questions such as: Can we seamlessly move between the virtual and the real? Can we assimilate fundamentally new senses through confluence?

The aim of this book is to explore the boundaries and intersections of the multidisciplinary field of HCC and discuss its potential applications in different domains, including healthcare, education, training and even arts.


Please cite as follows:

Andrea Gaggioli, Alois Ferscha, Giuseppe Riva, Stephen Dunne, Isabell Viaud-Delmon (2016). Human computer confluence: transforming human experience through symbiotic technologies. Warsaw: De Gruyter. ISBN 9783110471120.


May 24, 2016

Using Big Data in Cyberpsychology

Thanks to the pervasive diffusion of social media and the increasing affordability of smartphone and wearable sensors, psychologists can gather and analyse massive quantities of data concerning people behaviours and moods in naturalistic situations.


The availability of “big data” presents psychologists with unprecedented professional and scientific opportunities, but also with new challenges. On the business side, for example, a growing number of tech-companies are hiring psychologists to help make sense of huge data sets collected online from their actual and prospective customers.

The job description of a “data psychologist” not only requires perfect mastery of advanced statistics, but also the ability to identify the kinds of behaviours that are most useful to track and analyse, in order to improve products and business strategies. Psychological research, too, may be revolutionized from emerging field of big data. Until recently, online research methods were mostly represented by web experiments and online survey studies.

Example of topic areas included cognitive psychology, social psychology, but also health psychology and forensing psychology (for an updated list of psychological experiments on the Internet see this useful resource by the Hanover College Psychology Department).

However, the emergence of advanced cloud-based data analytics has provided psychologists with powerful new ways of studying human behaviour using digital footprints. An interesting example is CrowdSignal, a crowdfunded mobile data collection campaign that aims at building the largest set of longitudinal mobile and sensor data recorded from smartphones and smartwatches available to the community. As reported in the project’s website, the final dataset will include geo-location, sensor, system and network logs, user interactions, social connections, communications as well as user-provided ground truth labels and survey feedback, collected from a demographically diverse pool of Android users across the United States.

A further interesting service that well exemplifies the scientific potential of social data analytics is the “Apply Magic Sauce PredictionAPI” developed by the Psychometrics Centre of the University of Cambridge. According to the Cambridge researchers, this algorithm allows predicting users’ personality traits based on Facebook interactions (i.e., Facebook Likes). To test the validity of the tool, the team compared the predictions generated by computer algorithms and the personality judgments made by human. The results, which were reported on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Youyou et al., 2015, PNAS, 112/4, pp. 1036–1040), showed that the computers’ judgments of people’s personalities based on their digital behaviors were more accurate than judgments made by their close others or acquaintances.


However, the emergence of “big data psychology” presents also big challenges. For example, it is the advantages of this approach for business and research should take into account the issues related to ethical, privacy and legal implications that are unavoidably linked to the collection of digital footprints. On the methodological side, it is also important to consider that quantity (of data) is not synonimous with quality (of data interpretation).

In order to create meaningful and accurate models from behavioural logs, one needs to consider the role played by contextual variables, as well as the possible data errors and spurious correlations introduced by high dimensionality.

Dec 26, 2015

How to reduce costs in Cyberpsychology research

Cyberpsychology is a fascinating field of research, yet it requires a lot of financial resources for its advancement. As an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor, the implementation of a cyberpsychology study often involves the collaboration of several scientific disciplines outside psychology, such as experts in human-computer interaction, software developers, data scientists, and engineers. Further, an increasing number of cyberpsychology studies consist of clinical trials, which can last several months (or even years) and involve a significant investment of economic resources. On the other side, finding adequate fundings is becoming the most pressing challenge for most cyberpsychologists.

This is due to several factors. First, governments university funding has fallen dramatically in most countries and the trend for the next years is not encouraging. Second, competition for grants is very high and it is likely to remain so. A third, - and perhaps less obvious - factor is that Cyberpsychology research tends to attract less fundings than other allied disciplines, i.e. medicine. Given this situation, what can be done to allow cyberpsychologists to keep furthering their research?

A possible strategy is to improve “lateral thinking” and find a way to optimize costs. This can be done, for example, by taking advantage of free, open source software/service/tools to support the different phases of the research process – design, implementation, collaboration, monitoring, data analysis, reporting, etc. These open-source tools are not only free, but sometimes even more powerful than existing proprietary software and services. For example, a fairly comprehensive set of free office productivity tools can be found online. These include word processor, spreadsheet (i.e. the OpenOffice suite), slide presentations, graphic programs (i.e. Gimp, http://www.gimp.org/).

As concerns the implementation of laboratory experiments, several software platforms are available for programming psychological studies. For example, PsychoPy is a user-friendly open-source application that allows the presentation of stimuli and collection of data for a wide range of neuroscience, psychology and psychophysics experiments. For the analysis of data, possible alternatives to commercial statistical packages include the R language for statistical computing, a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics (coupled with R-Commander or Rstudio for those who are not comfortable with line-command interfaces). And when it is time to writing a paper, free tools exist designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation, such as the popular program LaTeX, which can be used in combination to reference manager software like JabRef.

And what about Virtual Reality? Our NeuroVR platform is a free tool that young researchers (i.e. MS students, PhD students) can use to move their first scientific steps in the virtual realm.

Needless to say, the most expensive budget item in a research plan remains personnel costs. However, I think that by having a look at the many free scientific tools, resources and services that are available, it might be possible to significantly reduce the costs; at the same time, this approach offers the opportunity to support the growth of the open source community in our discipline.  

Oct 18, 2014

New Technique Helps Diagnose Consciousness in Locked-in Patients

Via Medgadget

locked in detection New Technique Helps Diagnose Consciousness in Locked in Patients

Brain networks in two behaviourally-similar vegetative patients (left and middle), but one of whom imagined playing tennis (middle panel), alongside a healthy adult (right panel). Credit: Srivas Chennu

People locked into a vegetative state due to disease or injury are a major mystery for medical science. Some may be fully unconscious, while others remain aware of what’s going on around them but can’t speak or move to show it. Now scientists at Cambridge have reported in journal PLOS Computational Biology on a new technique that can help identify locked-in people that can still hear and retain their consciousness.

Some details from the study abstract:

We devised a novel topographical metric, termed modular span, which showed that the alpha network modules in patients were also spatially circumscribed, lacking the structured long-distance interactions commonly observed in the healthy controls. Importantly however, these differences between graph-theoretic metrics were partially reversed in delta and theta band networks, which were also significantly more similar to each other in patients than controls. Going further, we found that metrics of alpha network efficiency also correlated with the degree of behavioural awareness. Intriguingly, some patients in behaviourally unresponsive vegetative states who demonstrated evidence of covert awareness with functional neuroimaging stood out from this trend: they had alpha networks that were remarkably well preserved and similar to those observed in the controls. Taken together, our findings inform current understanding of disorders of consciousness by highlighting the distinctive brain networks that characterise them. In the significant minority of vegetative patients who follow commands in neuroimaging tests, they point to putative network mechanisms that could support cognitive function and consciousness despite profound behavioural impairment.

Study in PLOS Computational Biology: Spectral Signatures of Reorganised Brain Networks in Disorders of Consciousness


Oct 12, 2014

New Material May Help Us To Breathe Underwater

Scientists in Denmark announced they have developed a substance that absorbs, stores and releases huge amounts of oxygen.

The substance is so effective that just a few grains are capable of storing enough oxygen for a single human breath while a bucket full of the new material could capture an entire room of O2.

With the new material there are hopes those requiring medical oxygen might soon be freed from carrying bulky tanks, while SCUBA divers might also be able to use the material to absorb oxygen from water, allowing them to stay submerged for significantly longer.

The substance was developed by tinkering with the molecular structure of cobalt, a chemical element that when found in meteoric iron, resembles a silver-gray metal.
Read More: University of Southern Denmark

Aug 31, 2014

Information Entropy

Information – Entropy by Oliver Reichenstein

Will information technology affect our minds the same way the environment was affected by our analogue technology? Designers hold a key position in dealing with ever increasing data pollution. We are mostly focussed on speeding things up, on making sharing easier, faster, more accessible. But speed, usability, accessibility are not the main issue anymore.  The main issues are not technological, they are structural, processual. What we lack is clarity, correctness, depth, time. Are there counter-techniques we can employ to turn data into information, information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom?

Oliver Reichenstein — Information Entropy (SmashingConf NYC 2014) from Smashing Magazine on Vimeo.

Aug 03, 2014

Detecting awareness in patients with disorders of consciousness using a hybrid brain-computer interface

Detecting awareness in patients with disorders of consciousness using a hybrid brain-computer interface.

J Neural Eng. 2014 Aug 1;11(5):056007

Authors: Pan J, Xie Q, He Y, Wang F, Di H, Laureys S, Yu R, Li Y

Abstract. Objective. The bedside detection of potential awareness in patients with disorders of consciousness (DOC) currently relies only on behavioral observations and tests; however, the misdiagnosis rates in this patient group are historically relatively high. In this study, we proposed a visual hybrid brain-computer interface (BCI) combining P300 and steady-state evoked potential (SSVEP) responses to detect awareness in severely brain injured patients. Approach. Four healthy subjects, seven DOC patients who were in a vegetative state (VS, n = 4) or minimally conscious state (MCS, n = 3), and one locked-in syndrome (LIS) patient attempted a command-following experiment. In each experimental trial, two photos were presented to each patient; one was the patient's own photo, and the other photo was unfamiliar. The patients were instructed to focus on their own or the unfamiliar photos. The BCI system determined which photo the patient focused on with both P300 and SSVEP detections. Main results. Four healthy subjects, one of the 4 VS, one of the 3 MCS, and the LIS patient were able to selectively attend to their own or the unfamiliar photos (classification accuracy, 66-100%). Two additional patients (one VS and one MCS) failed to attend the unfamiliar photo (50-52%) but achieved significant accuracies for their own photo (64-68%). All other patients failed to show any significant response to commands (46-55%). Significance. Through the hybrid BCI system, command following was detected in four healthy subjects, two of 7 DOC patients, and one LIS patient. We suggest that the hybrid BCI system could be used as a supportive bedside tool to detect awareness in patients with DOC.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a Stress Management Intervention for Healthy Individuals: A Systematic Review

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a Stress Management Intervention for Healthy Individuals: A Systematic Review.

J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2014 Jul 22; Authors: Sharma M, Rush SE

Stress is a global public health problem with several negative health consequences, including anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and suicide. Mindfulness-based stress reduction offers an effective way of reducing stress by combining mindfulness meditation and yoga in an 8-week training program. The purpose of this study was to look at studies from January 2009 to January 2014 and examine whether mindfulness-based stress reduction is a potentially viable method for managing stress. A systematic search from Medline, CINAHL, and Alt HealthWatch databases was conducted for all types of quantitative articles involving mindfulness-based stress reduction. A total of 17 articles met the inclusion criteria. Of the 17 studies, 16 demonstrated positive changes in psychological or physiological outcomes related to anxiety and/or stress. Despite the limitations of not all studies using randomized controlled design, having smaller sample sizes, and having different outcomes, mindfulness-based stress reduction appears to be a promising modality for stress management.

Jul 29, 2014

1st Place Video at 2014 Princeton University Art of Science competition

And the winner is... Sabine Petry and co-workers, Petry Lab, Princeton Department of Molecular Biology.

Description: Microtubules are hollow filaments that serve as the skeleton of the cell. They were thought to grow linearly, but this movie shows that they can branch: microtubules (red with growing tips in green) grow off the wall of existing microtubules. In addition, microtubules are moved along the glass surface by molecular motors. Microtubule branching amplifies the microtubules while preserving their polarity and explains how microtubules can cause the mitotic spindle of a dividing cell to reliably segregate chromosomes (Petry et al., Cell 2013).

Scale: A microtubule has a diameter of 25 nanometer and is the largest cytosekeletal filament in the cell.

More on the Princeton University Art of Science competition: http://artofsci.princeton.edu/

Jul 13, 2014

An atomic view of brain activity

Jun 29, 2014

Impact, funding, and Nasruddin's key

Cybersightings, Sept. 2013

In his Science editorial (A perverted view of 'impact,' Science, 2013 Jun 14, p. 1265), cell biologist and biochemist Marc Kirschner warns against National Institute of Health's recent introduction of ''impact and significance'' as an explicit criterion to funding decisions.

According to Kirschner, overemphasis on short-term impact (especially in fundamental research) can lead applicants to overstate potential benefits of their proposals. Moreover, as Kirschner notes, scientists working in fundamental research can rarely anticipate future applications of their eventual discoveries. A further risk related to the introduction of this criterion is that increasing investments in areas that are considered impactful will in-evitably decrease resources for other fields. As a result, diversity in science will be reduced as well as productivity.

Although I tend to resonate with Kirschner's general argument, I also believe that there are compelling reasons in favor of introducing (maintaining) impact as a criterion in funding decisions.

First, at least some scientists, if not all of them, might have a clear view about the significance of their research.

Second, resources for science are scarce. Since choices need to be made, concentrating funding on research that has more promising applications is meaningful. As in the popular Nasruddin's tale, no matter where we may have lost the key, we all prefer to begin under the street light where we can see—and so it is for funding bodies.

Third, however, this strategy does not prevent the fact that some resources are dedicated to high risk/high impact projects; see, as an example, the European Commission Future and Emerging Technologies Flagships' initiatives.

Fourth, the growing gap between science and the public could be reduced if researchers would better explain the significance of their work for society. This is especially true in times of economic depression: early evidence suggests that citizens of regions more affected by crisis are more likely to express support for increases in government investments in research (L. Sanz-Menéndez, G. G. Van Ryzin, Economic crisis and public attitudes toward science: a study of regional differences in Spain. Public Underst Sci. 2013 Jun 21).

We are aware that impact and significance are ill-defined concepts. However, researchers are good at measuring things. They could put more effort in trying to define better indicators for these issues, making impact review a less arbitrary system.


Apr 06, 2014

Measuring the effects through time of the influence of visuomotor and visuotactile synchronous stimulation on a virtual body ownership illusion

Measuring the effects through time of the influence of visuomotor and visuotactile synchronous stimulation on a virtual body ownership illusion.

Perception. 2014;43(1):43-58

Authors: Kokkinara E, Slater M

Abstract. Previous studies have examined the experience of owning a virtual surrogate body or body part through specific combinations of cross-modal multisensory stimulation. Both visuomotor (VM) and visuotactile (VT) synchronous stimulation have been shown to be important for inducing a body ownership illusion, each tested separately or both in combination. In this study we compared the relative importance of these two cross-modal correlations, when both are provided in the same immersive virtual reality setup and the same experiment. We systematically manipulated VT and VM contingencies in order to assess their relative role and mutual interaction. Moreover, we present a new method for measuring the induced body ownership illusion through time, by recording reports of breaks in the illusion of ownership ('breaks') throughout the experimental phase. The balance of the evidence, from both questionnaires and analysis of the breaks, suggests that while VM synchronous stimulation contributes the greatest to the attainment of the illusion, a disruption of either (through asynchronous stimulation) contributes equally to the probability of a break in the illusion.

Stick-on electronic patches for health monitoring

flex patch Flexible Skin Worn Patch Monitors EEG, ECG, Sends Recorded Data via Wireless (VIDEO)

Researchers at at John A. Rogers’ lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have incorporated off-the-shelf chips into fexible electronic patches to allow for high quality ECG and EEG monitoring.

Here is the video:

Feb 09, 2014

A high-fidelity virtual environment for the study of paranoia

A high-fidelity virtual environment for the study of paranoia.

Schizophr Res Treatment. 2013;2013:538185

Authors: Broome MR, Zányi E, Hamborg T, Selmanovic E, Czanner S, Birchwood M, Chalmers A, Singh SP

Abstract. Psychotic disorders carry social and economic costs for sufferers and society. Recent evidence highlights the risk posed by urban upbringing and social deprivation in the genesis of paranoia and psychosis. Evidence based psychological interventions are often not offered because of a lack of therapists. Virtual reality (VR) environments have been used to treat mental health problems. VR may be a way of understanding the aetiological processes in psychosis and increasing psychotherapeutic resources for its treatment. We developed a high-fidelity virtual reality scenario of an urban street scene to test the hypothesis that virtual urban exposure is able to generate paranoia to a comparable or greater extent than scenarios using indoor scenes. Participants (n = 32) entered the VR scenario for four minutes, after which time their degree of paranoid ideation was assessed. We demonstrated that the virtual reality scenario was able to elicit paranoia in a nonclinical, healthy group and that an urban scene was more likely to lead to higher levels of paranoia than a virtual indoor environment. We suggest that this study offers evidence to support the role of exposure to factors in the urban environment in the genesis and maintenance of psychotic experiences and symptoms. The realistic high-fidelity street scene scenario may offer a useful tool for therapists.

Bodily maps of emotions

Via KurzweilAI.net

Bodily topography of basic (Upper) and nonbasic (Lower) emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion. (Credit: Lauri Nummenmaa et al./PNAS)

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have compiled maps of emotional feelings associated with culturally universal bodily sensations, which could be at the core of emotional experience.

The researchers found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions. The sensation patterns were, however, consistent across different West European and East Asian cultures, highlighting that emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns have a biological basis.

The research was carried out on line, and over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan took part in the study. The researchers induced different emotional states in their Finnish and Taiwanese participants. Subsequently the participants were shown pictures of human bodies on a computer, and asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing.

“Unraveling the subjective bodily sensations associated with human emotions may help us to better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which are accompanied by altered emotional processing, autonomic nervous system activity, and somatosensation (body sensations),” the researchers said in an open-access paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “These topographical changes in emotion-triggered sensations in the body could provide a novel biomarker for emotional disorders.”

Abstract of PNAS paper

Lauri Nummenmaa at al., Bodily maps of emotions, PNAS, 646–651, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1321664111 (open access)

Emotions are often felt in the body, and somatosensory feedback has been proposed to trigger conscious emotional experiences. Here we reveal maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions using a unique topographical self-report method. In five experiments, participants (n = 701) were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus. Different emotions were consistently associated with statistically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments. These maps were concordant across West European and East Asian samples. Statistical classifiers distinguished emotion-specific activation maps accurately, confirming independence of topographies across emotions. We propose that emotions are represented in the somatosensory system as culturally universal categorical somatotopic maps. Perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes may play a key role in generating consciously felt emotions.


Feb 02, 2014

Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Effect of Meditation on Cognitive Functions in Context of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Front Behav Neurosci. 2014;8:17

Authors: Marciniak R, Sheardova K, Cermáková P, Hudeček D, Sumec R, Hort J

Abstract. Effect of different meditation practices on various aspects of mental and physical health is receiving growing attention. The present paper reviews evidence on the effects of several mediation practices on cognitive functions in the context of aging and neurodegenerative diseases. The effect of meditation in this area is still poorly explored. Seven studies were detected through the databases search, which explores the effect of meditation on attention, memory, executive functions, and other miscellaneous measures of cognition in a sample of older people and people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. Overall, reviewed studies suggested a positive effect of meditation techniques, particularly in the area of attention, as well as memory, verbal fluency, and cognitive flexibility. These findings are discussed in the context of MRI studies suggesting structural correlates of the effects. Meditation can be a potentially suitable non-pharmacological intervention aimed at the prevention of cognitive decline in the elderly. However, the conclusions of these studies are limited by their methodological flaws and differences of various types of meditation techniques. Further research in this direction could help to verify the validity of the findings and clarify the problematic aspects.

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