Emotions in “Black and White” or Shades of Gray? How We Think About Emotion Shapes Our Perception and Neural Representation of Emotion

Ajay B. Satpute, Erik C. Nook, Sandhya Narayanan, Jocelyn Shu, Jochen Weber, Kevin N. Ochsner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations

Abstract

The demands of social life often require categorically judging whether someone’s continuously varying facial movements express “calm” or “fear,” or whether one’s fluctuating internal states mean one feels “good” or “bad.” In two studies, we asked whether this kind of categorical, “black and white,” thinking can shape the perception and neural representation of emotion. Using psychometric and neuroimaging methods, we found that (a) across participants, judging emotions using a categorical, “black and white” scale relative to judging emotions using a continuous, “shades of gray,” scale shifted subjective emotion perception thresholds; (b) these shifts corresponded with activity in brain regions previously associated with affective responding (i.e., the amygdala and ventral anterior insula); and (c) connectivity of these regions with the medial prefrontal cortex correlated with the magnitude of categorization-related shifts. These findings suggest that categorical thinking about emotions may actively shape the perception and neural representation of the emotions in question.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1428-1442
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Science
Volume27
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)

Keywords

  • affect
  • categorization
  • emotions
  • neuroimaging
  • social cognition

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