Emotion's Alchemy

Ed. Note: The article below was written by Aslihan Selimbeyoglu. Aslihan recently accepted an offer from Stanford to join the Neuroscience Ph.D program. She is a Fulbright Scholar currently working in the lab of Dr. Josef Parvizi. Emotion’s Alchemy

Above is the first article in a long while which urged me to disconnect the unbreakable link between my fovea and my MacBook to get up. Not that I was extremely excited about what I’ve just read that I couldn’t sit still, but I had to find a mirror and a voice-recorder (and a metronome if possible) after reading the elaborate definition of laughter in the first paragraph. The article, published in Seed Magazine, seeks to unravel the biological mechanisms that ignite emotional feelings and their link to bodily expressions.

Genevieve Wanucha (a 25 yr-old science writer from MIT) takes the reader to a journey from neurological disorders to method acting, from autonomic responses to mirror neurons. She mentions Gall, Lange and Shakespeare along with Damasio, Gallese and Parvizi! You’ll find the new theory of Parvizi and colleagues explaining the neurological mechanisms of pathological laughter and crying (opposing the “corticocentric myopia”, as he defines it), and a well-written summary of the leading theory of Antonio Damasio’s, “somatic marker hypothesis”.

Although the article is an interesting and informative one by itself, it’s the take-home message that makes it definitely worth to read: “acted expressions can cause emotions and emotions are contagious”. That is to say, you can practice your laughter, perform it without a reason, and make people laugh, which in turn would cause them feel as if there’s a reason to laugh. I wonder if Americans know this inherently and smile each other passing by accordingly. I wonder more whether “e-motions” are also contagious, whether you’ll be able to feel that I wrote this article smiling and smile back.

Note: Visit Wanucha’s blog if you like to read more of her articles.


Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog