Scientists Used Forrest Gump To Map Out The Emotions Of The Brain

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
How Forrest Gump Made Scientists Better Understand Human Emotions

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It's difficult to watch Forrest Gump' without experiencing a range of emotions, from happiness to sadness and even surprise. Now researchers are taking advantage of that to analyze viewers' feelings during the film to better understand how the brain processes certain emotional states. 

The study, published in Nature Communications, discovered a map of affective emotions, which they dubbed "emotionotopy." 

Researchers asked 15 volunteers to watch an edited version of Forrest Gump and express their emotional responses. Participants documented their feelings during each scene, as well as the strength of those feelings on a scale of one to 100.

The written responses were compared to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans taken of 15 others who watched the movie in a previous study.

They found the specific region of the brain where "polarity, complexity, and intensity of emotional experiences" exist. The 3-centimeter area—called the right temporoparietal junction—was activated at the exact moment someone began feeling an emotion.

Understanding something subjective, like emotions, through an objective lens puts "psychiatry closer to other fields of medicine," said co-author of the study Pietro Pietrini, M.D., Ph.D. Meaning, this research might have the potential to improve mental health treatments.

"Dissecting the...intensity and quality of our emotions has major implications to understand what happens when emotions get sick, as in case of depression and phobia."

While this research is imperative for future psychiatric research, bringing more awareness to our emotions right now can also improve our physical health.

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