This is what happens in the brain when you are happy

Would you be willing to wear an electrode cap that tracks your brain activity while you cuddle with your significant other or reminisce over beloved memories? It certainly sounds a bit awkward, but that’s just what a group of German volunteers did to provide researchers with a better idea of how the human mind processes positive emotions.

This study, published by The Ruhr-University Bochum, is groundbreaking due to the real-life environments researchers were able to collect data within. Prior projects focusing on how the mind processes emotions have all taken place in a lab setting.

Obviously, it’s difficult for anyone to get intimate or comfortable while sitting in a lab; the fact that these brain readings were gathered as participants relaxed in the comfort of their own home makes a big difference.

After observing the brain activity among 16 couples as they cuddled, kissed, and remembered old cherished memories, study authors say their findings confirm the long-held theory that the human mind processes positive emotions in the frontal areas of its left side. Of course, that also means the human mind processes negative emotions on the right side.

Earlier research projects had attempted to re-create legitimate positive emotions in participants by displaying various images, scenes, or videos within a lab setting.

“It was unclear whether that really reflects how people experience and act out feelings,” says study co-author Dr. Julian Packheiser in a release. “Ultimately, emotions comprise not only the perception of feelings but also their expression.”

Now, a typical EEG (electroencephalography) would fail to record accurate readings within a home environment because any casual movements, while participants were kissing, cuddling,  or reminiscing, would have corrupted the data. To address this, researchers used a specialized, mobile EEG system that facilitated more control over the neural readings.

“We have used a mobile EEG system that records not only brain waves but also the movement patterns of the subjects,” Dr. Packheiser explains. 

So, the left side of the human mind is responsible for positivity, happiness, intimacy, and feelings of love. Conversely, the right side appears to take over when things get a bit more tense, angry, sad, or negative in general. With these findings in mind, it’s safe to say we’d all like to flex our left-brain muscles far more often than the right.

While there isn’t a whole lot to apply to one’s everyday life from these results, the research doors these confirmations open are myriad. Now that it’s been established that the left side of the brain covers happiness and the right is linked to negativity, scientists can start working on how these findings may inform future psychological, neurological, and mental health-oriented treatment options.

For example, now that we know where to look for negative emotion processing in the mind, concentrated future observation projects may reveal new ways to mitigate such emotions or depressive thoughts.

For now, though, these findings represent yet another piece of the ongoing puzzle that is the human mind.

The full study can be found here, published in Scientific Reports.