Mood swing: how feelings help and hurt – Emotion – effect on cognitive tasks

Mood swing: how feelings help and hurt – Emotion – effect on cognitive tasks – Brief Article

Kaja Perina

When it comes to higher mental abilities, man does not govern by logical thought alone. Instead, research suggests that moods help regulate specific tasks performed by the lateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain critical to reasoning and intelligence.

“The brain is organized to process emotions along with logic,” states Richard Restak, M.D., a psychiatrist and professor of neurology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Restak’s book Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot provides 28 tips on strengthening mental acuity and, when necessary, turning emotion to one’s advantage.

A new study, conducted at Washington University (WU) in St. Louis, shows more specifically how emotions and learning interact. Subjects viewed pleasant, neutral or anxiety-inducing video clips, then performed cognitive tasks while their brain activity was monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results, published in Proceedings oft he National Academy of Sciences, suggest that emotional states such as enjoyment and anticipation augment tasks executed by the left prefrontal cortex, while negative emotions, including fear and anxiety, enhance tasks processed by the right prefontal cortex.

“This is the first study to show that specific brain regions mediate interactions between emotional states and cognition,” says Todd Braver, Ph.D., a WU psychology professor. Co-author Jeremy Gray, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at WU, agrees. “It’s not simply that emotion `hijacks’ cognition but that emotions both enhance and impair higher cognition in very specific ways,” Gray explains. “To understand how a particular emotion influences performance, you have to take into account the type of task in question. Our results show that the brain takes this into account.”

Because anxiety enhances visual and spatial performance, subjects who viewed a clip from the horror film Halloween scored 25 percent better on tests of face recognition (regulated by the right hemisphere), than did subjects who watched comedies. Viewing comedies, however, led to a 25 percent improvement in verbal performance.

Susceptibility to positive or negative moods can also impact tasks regulated by the lateral prefrontal cortex, according to the study. Those results will be published in Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience.

Even though emotion enhances certain types of learning, Restak subscribes to the precept of “mental hygiene,” or keeping one’s emotions in check. “Don’t pay too much attention to your feelings,” he advises. “If I only wrote when I felt like it, I’d have two books written.” Restak has in fact penned 13.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group