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How and why words heal

Psychological Science Journal’s article by Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience, reports that there is a benefit in putting feelings into words through speech or writing.

Using brain imaging, Lieberman found that by subliminally flashing images of ‘angry’ faces activated an area of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala area is a small almond shape group of neurons deep in the mid-portion of the brain. It is thought that its primary function is to make a connection of an emotional event and its memory.

Simply by placing a descriptive label, like ‘anger,’ next to the image of an angry face reduced activity in the amygdala area of the brain while increasing activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. Previous brain imaging studies show this area to be active when a person is thinking of an emotional experience and expressing it in words. When this area is active both behavior and emotions are inhibited from memory storage. How or why this happens is yet to be determined.

Lieberman’s study demonstrates why keeping a journal during a difficult emotional period helps to purge those negative feelings. It also explains why mindful meditation and labeling your experience is effective.

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