Experiencing awe is linked to decreased inflammation

In the Savvy Pscychologist, clinician Ellen Hendriksen of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, looks at the profound psychological and physiological impacts of feeling awe, whether it comes from looking up at the expansive night sky or hearing an incredible musical performance. She reflects on scientific evidence that awe makes us "feel small" and humble, nicer, and expands our worldview, all of which seem like fairly obvious effects. But Hendriksen also points to a recent curious study published in the journal Emotion showing that "awe is linked to decreased inflammation." The University of Toronto researchers had examined whether amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, pride, and awe resulted in "lower levels of a marker of inflammation called interleukin-6, or IL-6, which has been linked to diseases as diverse as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and diabetes." From the Savvy Psychologist:

Why on earth might standing on a mountaintop connect with our levels of inflammation? One hypothesis is that proinflammatory cytokines like IL-6 lead to physical and social withdrawal—curling up in your den and resting speeds recovery from illness or injury more quickly than pushing through. By contrast, awe triggers the opposite: an urge to explore and experience more. It’s unclear whether awe reduces inflammation or reduced inflammation makes us seek out awe, but either way, the two seem to be linked.

"Awe: The Most Incredible Emotion and Its Spectacular Effects"

Here's the scientific study: "Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines" (Emotion)

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Direct from the Uncanny Valley: Affetto, the freaky child android head

This is the new version of Affetto, the robot child head that's a testbed for synthetic facial expressions. According to the Osaka University researchers who birthed Affeto, their goal is to "offer a path for androids to express greater ranges of emotion, and ultimately have deeper interaction with humans." From Osaka University:

The researchers investigated 116 different facial points on Affetto to measure its three-dimensional movement. Facial points were underpinned by so-called deformation units. Each unit comprises a set of mechanisms that create a distinctive facial contortion, such as lowering or raising of part of a lip or eyelid. Measurements from these were then subjected to a mathematical model to quantify their surface motion patterns.

While the researchers encountered challenges in balancing the applied force and in adjusting the synthetic skin, they were able to employ their system to adjust the deformation units for precise control of Affetto’s facial surface motions.

“Android robot faces have persisted in being a black box problem: they have been implemented but have only been judged in vague and general terms,” study first author Hisashi Ishihara says. “Our precise findings will let us effectively control android facial movements to introduce more nuanced expressions, such as smiling and frowning.”

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Hiromi Tango's vibrant performance sculptures depict brain function

Hiromi Tango creates sculptures of colorful textiles, neon, and mirrors, then interacts with the pieces as performance art, like this exploration of the amygdala, part of her Dynamic Emotions series. Read the rest

What emotions are most sought in stock photos?

Shutterstock, a stock photo services that sells images for ads, marketing materials, and the like, analyzed 500 million downloads to see what emotions their customers want to convey. Image above, "Cat feel lonely," from the "Sadness" collection. Read the rest

Who’s afraid of the amygdala? Research blows away "fear center" myth

New revelations about your brain’s so-called “fear center” explain why it’s misleading to say “this part of the brain does x”. Maggie Koerth-Baker talks to neuroscientist Paul Whalen and learns that there’s more to fear than fear, itself.