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fMRI Maps for Domestic Bliss

March 15, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Peace on the home front, or the reversal of trouble in paradise, may be just an fMRI scan away, as activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex can predict if couples will bounce back better from domestic squabbles.

The link between brain activity and the regulation of emotion in the laboratory is documented, and now brain activity and daily chains of events appear to have a similar relationship, in relationships.

An article from Medical News Today outlines the Harvard study. Researchers worked with couples who had been together for three months or more.  They placed each individual in an fMRI scanner and showed them photos of their partners with various facial expressions and recorded their neural responses. They also tested for impulse control and examined the quality and direction of their attention spans.

Study participants kept diaries for three weeks and noted their daily emotional outlook and the occurrence of any quarrels with their partners. When they were scanned after an argument, the participants with greater lateral prefrontal cortex activity were better adjusted on the days after fights, and they responded better, in neutral times, to photos of their partners with negative expressions. They also showed more cognitive control.

Though still distant from clinical applications, the results suggest that actively improving and broadening cognitive control skills could aid in regulating emotions and improving and regulating day-to-day moods.

“The key factor is that the brain activity in the scanner predicted their experience in life,” said lead author Christine Hooker, assistant professor of psychology in Harvard University’s  Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Scientists believe that what we are looking at in the scanner has relevance to daily life, but obviously we don’t live our lives in a scanner. If we can connect what we see in the scanner to somebody’s day-to-day emotion-regulation capacity, it could help psychologists predict how well people will respond to stressful events in their lives.”

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