Monday, November 02, 2009

Evidence of the "cortico-thalamic pause"

A post on the BPS Research Digest blog reports on research concerning facial expression that contends that expressions are BOTH universal and culture-specific. The research shows that the more universal expression appears first, followed a few seconds later by a more culturally-appropriate mask or adjustment:

Matsumoto and his colleagues believe that the initial facial reaction is triggered automatically by subcortical brain structures, before more culturally specific modification is applied by the motor cortex.
From this I think we can say that in those few seconds, the cortex engages and provides a different evaluation that the person-from-a-culture then applies to adjust their emotional reaction.

Matsumoto's research detects the replacement of one automatic reaction with another learned reaction that allows us to fit in with our culture. If we learn to do this simply by growing up in different cultures, can we learn to make deliberate pauses and adjustments that can help us choose our emotional reactions as well? Both gs and REBT say yes, we can. Both disciplines encourage stopping to think before reacting.

Can that alone change how we feel about an event? A report in the New York Times on research concerning the effect of our expressions on our mood suggests that it can.

In terms of this research, we can suggest that a deliberate effort to slow or suspend our initial emotional reaction to the automatic subcortical brain evaluation, followed by the deliberate choice to evaluate the event with the educated cortex rather than the more automatic parts of the brain, can produce more accurate, evidence-based meaning-making.

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