Quick reminders of being loved and cared for reduce the brain’s response to threatening situations, a new study finds.
Researchers have found that when people are briefly shown pictures of others being loved and cared for, the brain’s threat response is muted.
Directly after the soothing images, people were shown threatening facial expressions or words which would normally cause a strong response in the amygdala, a structure which is key to how we process emotions.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure how the brain responded.
The results, published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, showed that very brief reminders of being loved and cared for reduced the threat response in the amygdala (Norman et al., 2014).
For those who were particularly anxious, the pictures of love and support were especially effective.
The soothing pictures were even effective when people were not paying attention to them.
Dr Anke Karl, one of the study’s authors, explained:
“A number of mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are characterized by hypervigilance to threatening information, which is associated with excessive negative emotional responses, amygdala activation and a restricted ability to regulate these emotions and self-sooth.
These new research findings may help to explain why, for example, successful recovery from psychological trauma is highly associated with levels of perceived social support individuals receive.
We are now building on these findings to refine existing treatments for PTSD to boost feelings of being safe and supported in order to improve coping with traumatic memories.”
The study builds on previous findings that feelings of pain are also reduced when people are given reminders of being loved and cared for.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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