Is your happy like my happy? New research throws light on subjective feeling

 

Whenever we perceive something, we make an instant judgement on whether what we see, hear, taste, smell or feel is positive or negative. This subjective colouring of our perceptions is such a pervasive aspect of human experience that we are almost unable to sense anything without automatically valuing it according to its pleasantness or unpleasantness. Taking in the world this way means that even when we observe the same object or situation, we each form a unique and personal impression of it. Compared to other aspects of perception, the dimension of individual feeling is far less well understood.

Adam Anderson, associate professor at Cornell University, has led a research group focusing on the way in which subjective evaluation of the outside world shows up in the brain. The results suggest that not only is there a common pathway that deals with this type of emotional response across the various physical senses, but that it works the same way for all of us.

“Despite how personal our feelings feel, the evidence suggests our brains use a standard code to speak the same emotional language,” says Anderson.

Together with researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge, Anderson discovered that an individual’s subjective feeling is represented by fine-grained patterns of neural activity within the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with emotional processing.

“If you and I derive similar pleasure from sipping a fine wine or watching the sun set, our results suggest it is because we share similar fine-grained patterns of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex”.

Anderson’s findings show that the human brain generates a code for the whole spectrum of feelings ranging from pleasant to unpleasant. This code can be read as a “neural valence meter”, with certain groups of neurons leaning in one direction when the emotion is a positive one, and in the opposite direction when an unpleasant feeling arises. This means that the popular theory that the experience of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings corresponds with activity in distinct parts of the brain, seems to have been disproved.

According to Anderson, our personal feelings are the last frontier of neuroscience. In order to venture into this relatively unchartered territory, he asked the participants in his study to rate a series of complex images and tastes, whilst observing the patterns of activity which arose in their brains. As well as identifying the sensory-independent emotional codes in the orbitofrontal cortex, the researchers found that distinct sensory-specific emotional areas were involved for vision and taste. The authors indicate that this combined pattern of activity demonstrates that our subjective emotional response is an integral and inseparable aspect of human perception.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence