The Loh Down On Science

Is there a difference between actively choosing and passively following?

“I’ll do it because I want to, not because you told me to!”  Schoolyard chant—or fascinating neurological distinction?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

People can suppress emotion when necessary.  Doctors: when dressing a wound.  Carpool moms telling tweens to PIPE DOWN, ALREADY!  While still driving.

Researchers have long known which brain areas inhibit emotional responses. But neuroscientists in Belgium wondered:  Does the brain work differently when we choose to restrain emotions versus just following directions to do so?

To find out, the team had fifteen female college students view scary images. A signal accompanied each image.  A green light meant they should feel the emotion the image elicits. A red light?  Suppress it. Yellow light?  Choose whether to feel or suppress!

Meanwhile, brain imaging tracked the students’ brain activity.

And?  Different brain areas lit up when the students chose to suppress emotion than when they followed instructions to do so.

Which is why when someone tells neurotics to “stop obsessing,” it never works!  We true neurotics don’t need a study to tell us that!

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

*****This Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Amy Alkon about her book I See Rude People.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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