Can you really have mixed feelings? New research reveals yes

Can you really have mixed feelings?  New research reveals yes

It turns out that something unique happens in our brains when we look at something with mixed emotions.

We all have: mixed feelings. For example, it can happen to you if your child has left primary school or you have changed jobs yourself. You are happy about the new phase that has begun, but also a little sad about the phase that is ending. A typical case of nostalgia.

Although it happens to all of us from time to time, researchers still don’t really understand these mixed emotions. For example, there’s been a long-running debate about whether these mixed emotions are the result of unique brain activity or whether they arise because we’re torn between positive and negative emotions. A new study published in the journal Cerebral cortex Now provides some clarity.

Unique brain activity
“Not only did we find brain activity associated with mixed emotions, we also found that the brain activity persisted over time,” explains researcher Anthony Vaccaro. “You’re not oscillating back and forth between negativity and positivity. It’s a very unique and mixed emotion that you experience over a long period of time.

an experience
Vaccaro and his colleagues base this conclusion on an experiment in which they showed people a short video clip that they expected would elicit mixed emotions. After test participants watched the video for the first time, they watched it again, but this time from the MRI scanner. The brain activity of the test subjects was monitored using the device. Subjects had to indicate whether they felt mixed emotions so that researchers could study the brain activity associated with them.

The research reveals that people showed different brain activity when they experienced mixed emotions compared to purely positive or negative emotions. For example, mixed emotions were accompanied by unique neural activity in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens. Moreover, the brain activity was consistent. Clearly, mixed emotions do not arise because we are torn between positive and negative emotions, but rather are the result of unique brain activity.

It’s an interesting result, and one we’ve had to wait a long time for. Not much research has been done on mixed emotions yet. And there’s good reason for that, says researcher Jonas Kaplan. “It is difficult to elicit these complex emotions in a realistic way in the laboratory.”

Important results
But researchers have now succeeded. This is a good thing. “Because more knowledge about how mixed emotions arise is important,” Vaccaro says. “If we want to use neuroscience research to advance our understanding of mental health, we need to understand how complex emotions that we may actually encounter in everyday life arise in our brains.”

New questions
At the same time, the research also raises new questions, Vaccaro acknowledges. “For example, I find it interesting to know whether the patterns we see (in the brain, editor) of people (when they feel mixed emotions, editor) differ depending on how often they feel mixed emotions. If you’re someone who often has mixed emotions, does that lead to more distinct brain activity?

The new research appears to pave the way for more research on mixed emotions. Whereas previously research in science focused primarily on individual emotions and emotions were often thought to exist only on a spectrum from positive to negative, the idea that mixed emotions actually exist now seems to have finally been embraced by science. “I think the most important implication of our research is that we now allow ourselves to measure complex emotions and individual differences in them, thereby increasing our understanding of emotions and the brain,” Vaccaro says. “We cannot study what we do not measure!”

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