See Inside April 2005

Right Brain May Be Wrong

Classical neuroscience holds that the brain's right hemisphere processes the emotions behind faces and voices, while the left hemisphere handles the facts involved. Or not

Our ability to perceive other people's emotions plays an enormous role in our lives. Without this skill, social interaction would be fraught with peril. But how does the brain actually process the emotional signals that we sense in faces and tones of voice? An interdisciplinary research group in Germany is attempting to find out.

Assessing emotions is largely controlled by the limbic system, deep in the brain. This network of small structures gives incoming sensory data its emotional coloration. As numerous studies have confirmed, the amygdala is particularly important in creating these associations. Among other tasks, it sets off alarms when we see a hostile face or hear an angry voice, readying the body for fight or flight. But certainly other brain regions are involved.

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