Talking Helps Ease Emotional Distress

Americans are a diverse group of people interacting on a daily basis often times in stressful situations.

How different are our cultural stress coping mechanisms and are they working?

The American Psychological Association, APA reports that according to UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., the idea that putting problems into words will ease the emotional impact of those problems even across cultures.

Lieberman took this idea a step further, in 2003, by investigating it with the latest brain imaging technology (fMRIs).  “There’s this idea that putting bad feelings into words can help wash worries away,” he purported.

Lieberman and his colleagues found that social rejection activates a part of the brain that is also stimulated in response to physical pain.

Interestingly, they also found that people who had relatively less activity in that area-and who reported feeling relatively less distress-had more activity in the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with verbalizing thoughts and language production.

Their study’s results which were published in Science suggest that “talking it out” can help ease a person’s emotional response to tough situations by suppressing the area of the brain that produces emotional distress.

I can almost hear groans of guys across the world who fear the words “we need to talk” but who will no longer be able to say “Nothing will come of it, or “talking never solves anything”.

On a more recent note, Lieberman and his colleagues conducted another study that will be published in Psychological Science that tests this hypothesis more directly.

They asked 30 participants to view pictures of angry, scared or happy-looking faces. Half of the time the participants tried to match the target face to another picture of a face with a similar expression. The other half of the time, they tried to match the face to a word that correctly labeled its emotion.

Using fMRI, the researchers discovered that when the participants labeled the faces’ emotions using words, they showed less activity in the amygdala-an area of the brain associated with emotional distress.  At the same time, they showed more activity in the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex-the same language-related area that showed up in their previous study.

This is further evidence that verbalizing an emotion may activate the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex, which then suppresses the areas of the brain that produce emotional pain.

What are your thoughts on this study?  Does “talking it out” really help the emotional impact of a problem?

 

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