With the rise of the smartphone, and the growing popularity of social media, it’s easy to forget how important those moments are in our daily lives.
You can look around at a group of friends and see what you’ve shared, or at a concert and feel your emotions.
But sometimes you just can’t get a glimpse of what’s inside the person you’re with.
In that case, it can be frustrating to try to pinpoint what they are thinking, or what they’re feeling.
In a new study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University of Texas researchers found that in the absence of face-to-face interaction, the amygdala, a region of the brain that’s known to be active in response to social situations, is a key player in understanding and processing emotional stimuli.
The researchers found the amygdala was activated when the subjects viewed faces in a mirror, and when they viewed faces through a webcam.
This is a finding that could be useful in understanding how social situations can impact our ability to control our own emotions.
In the study, participants who had experienced emotional distress as children and were exposed to more social stress during the study were more likely to experience anxiety during the subsequent test.
This anxiety may be related to the amygdala being activated when someone else sees their emotional state, which could in turn affect how they react to social cues.
The study found that while this may be a promising theory for understanding how emotional experiences influence behavior, it is also unclear if this would apply to individuals who are experiencing stress as a result of an accident, or who are dealing with a mental illness.
“I don’t think this is something we’re able to learn with a single study, so this is just an interesting study to look at, because it raises interesting questions,” said Sarah Mokyr, a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina.
Mokyrs study is the first to examine whether exposure to emotional distress can alter the amygdala in individuals with anxiety disorders.
The amygdala has been linked to the activation of other regions of the human brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is thought to underlie emotion.
The new research suggests that anxiety can alter how the amygdala responds to emotional stimuli, and this may contribute to anxiety disorders such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Mokiyr and her team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the activation patterns of the amygdala and other brain regions during face-for-face interactions.
They found that the amygdala did not respond as strongly to faces as it did to faces with no emotional stress.
Instead, the amygdalas response to faces in this condition was significantly higher than that to faces that were not stressed.
Moshiyr said she was surprised to find that even when there was no emotional distress, there was still an activation in the amygdala when the subject saw their face.
“This may mean that the emotional state is a bit less salient than we think it is,” Mokys study noted.
“It may also suggest that the brain is more sensitive to stressors when it sees their face, rather than just hearing their voice.
This finding suggests that the stress-related activity in the brain may be different in individuals experiencing anxiety than others.”
Mokyres research team also tested how people’s responses to a webcam image of a smiling person could influence the amygdala.
While participants were shown faces with facial expressions and then told to imagine themselves smiling, they could not make the comparison between how they felt when the faces were smiling versus when they were not.
The research found that when participants viewed faces with an exaggerated smile, their amygdala responded more strongly to their facial expression than when they saw faces with a neutral expression.
When people viewed faces without exaggerated smiles, their amygdala response was significantly lower.
Mamiys findings suggest that if people are experiencing anxiety as a consequence of an emotional situation, this could be a factor in the increase in amygdala activation that can lead to anxiety.
It is also important to note that the study used a group with anxiety and depression and a group that had not experienced any stress.
The results did not prove that the amygdala is activated more strongly when someone sees a face than when someone does not see a face, but this finding could have implications for understanding the relationship between the two.
It may also help explain why the study showed an increase in the activity in a region called the insula, which has been shown to be more active when people experience anxiety, compared to a region that has been found to be less active in the general population.
In other words, the increased activation in this region may be part of the anxiety itself.
In an accompanying editorial, the authors wrote that the research shows that “neurobiological mechanisms that may be involved in the regulation of emotional processing may also contribute to the onset of anxiety disorders.”
They added that the results also suggest “that in the presence of a stressor, there may be increased activity in amygdala-associated regions.”