Learning about Brain Strain Using Brain Imaging
How do we know that our brain is involved when we have emotional distress or problems?
In 2003, a group of brain researchers, also known as neuroscientists, used functional brain imaging to make an important discovery. There are different types of brain imaging equipment that are now being used to help scientists see which parts of the human brain are active when we have types of experiences that cause us emotions pain and distress. This particular brain imaging experiment showed blood flow and brain cell activity during a common type of emotional distress. What researchers found was that same part of our brain that senses physical pain also responds to EMOTIONAL pain.
Here's how the experiment worked. Some of the students were purposely kept from participating in an action video game activity, while other students enjoyed receiving and passing an electronic ball back and forth to each other. The "rejected" group of students' had joy sticks that were secretly programmed to keep other participating students from tossing these "losers" the ball while playing the video game. This situation is similar to most students' brain reactions when kept from playing with a group on the school playground. Of course, in this case the "loser" experimental students, who became upset by not being included in playing the game, didn't know the game was "rigged" against them. This type of "functional" brain imaging proves that our brain is sensitive to being excluded by groups we'd like to join. We experience brain strain during emotion pain of rejection
in the part of our brain that also sense physical pain.
Why is our human coping brain so upset by stress when we feel emotionally wounded?
Functional brain imaging research and other studies are important since they show how our brain reacts to emotional stress. This helps us all understand why the brain reacts by struggling to cope with pain from common emotional wounds. This new field of brain imaging research uses powerful and expensive functional brain imaging (fMRI) equipment to help us understand for the first time that “emotional pain” is actually sensed by the human brain. We now have a clue that in dangerous situations why we feel "hurt" or afraid after a loss or rejection. Our sensitive survival brain instincts, from emotional and reptilian brains, may by confused by responding to emotional wounds as though we are being PHYSICALLY wounded, threatened or injured. So, rather than cope using our thinking brain we sometimes act like a lizard or lion when our feelings are hurt.
Functional brain imaging research is shedding new light on many other mysteries about how our brain actually works. This method of understanding how our brain copes with difficulties still leaves many unanswered questions about how our brain can both help us to heal inner pain or possibly make it worse. Progress in this field of research is advancing so quickly that in coming years we may discover how these currently unseen brain activities can help us to cope with stress or sometimes make it worse.