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)

Read the rest

The Wheel of Feelings

Feeling a certain way, but not quite sure of the best word for it? The wheel of feelings is a literary (or thereapeutic) tool for lending precision to fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise.

This wheel diagram from English teacher Kaitlin Robbs helps you find the right word for the right feeling from the inside out. Start out with a basic emotion and then move outward until you have the best synonym for the job. The wheel itself isn't exactly groundbreaking in the world of vocabulary, but it's a nice reference for those that have a hard time being specific about how they or others feel.

Read the rest

Accepting unhappiness makes you happier, feeling bad about feeling bad makes you feel worse

"We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health," says Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. Read the rest

How to change anxiety into excitement

Found on The Kid Should See This: "Neuroscientist Ian Robertson explains the trick behind these perception-changing actions: Rather than trying to become calm — the opposite of anxious — it’s much easier to reframe nervous feelings as positive energy."

In this video Fiona Phillips is experiencing anxiety about going on a zipline. Robertson tells her to that she can change that negative emotion into one that's positive by telling yourself "I feel excited." Read the rest

The surprising perks of being easily embarrassed

Why do people blush? Darwin studied the phenomenon of reddened cheeks and necks as a response to embarrassment and wrote, "Blushing is the most peculiar and most human of all expressions." And, unlike a smile or laughter, a blush can't be faked. David Robson wrote an article on BBC.com about new research that suggests that "feelings of excruciating embarrassment may be crucial for your wellbeing in the long term."

Psychologist Mark Leary at Duke University thinks blushes are “non-verbal apologies” that can clear up awkward moments. “Even if you are innocent, it may not hurt to convey discomfort at being accused – to say ‘I'm sorry that I have inadvertently given you a reason to suspect me’,” Leary said.

Matthew Feinberg did research at the University of California, Berkeley, and found that people who were more easily flustered were more likely to be altruistic and to play honestly in a game that involved cash rewards.

In a subsequent experiment, Feinberg showed participants pictures of people with embarrassed expressions, and asked them a series of questions, such as; “If this person were a fellow student, how likely is it that you would ask her to join a study group that you were a part of?” People who looked a little flustered were more likely to be included than those who looked cool and calm.

Amazingly, red-faced awkwardness may boost your sex appeal when faced with someone you fancy. “If they are looking for a long-term partner, it could show that you are prosocial, cooperative – someone who isn’t going to cheat,” says Feinberg, who is now at the University of Toronto.

Read the rest

Do animals cry?

Maria Konnikova on the appearance and the authenticity of emotion in the animal kingdom--and how we can use science to explore it.

Video: uncanny 3D faces show "parametric expressions"

It's watching us, and this is what it sees. Mike Pelletier explores quantified emotions in software, in collaboration with Subbacultcha! and Pllant / Marieke van Helden [Video Link] Read the rest

Why music makes us all verklempt (or angry, or wistful, or ...)

It could just be cultural connections that make us identify one song as happy and another as sad. But, explains Joe Hanson, there's evidence that our emotional connections to music are more universal than that.

In this video about evolution, music, and smooshy feelings, Hanson describes a study that asked participants to create short lines of music that matched specific emotions. The results were surprisingly similar, whether the participants were Americans, or people from an isolated village in Cambodia. Read the rest

There is no crying in space

Or, rather, there can be. But it's really, really awkward. Read the rest

Chimps suffer mid-life crises

Chimpanzees and orangutans experience mid-life crises, suggesting that the causes are "inherent in primate biology and not specific to human society." [Reuters] Read the rest