Research and/or Writing Consultant

I am a 2006 graduate of New York University. My cumulative GPA was 3.328. At NYU I enrolled in a highly individualized college called the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies. The focus I determined for myself was cultural studies and social sciences. Hence, I am highly trained in the arts of research and writing.

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Writing Sample:
New specifications for the role of the human amygdala in processing emotion:

By now it is well known that the amygdala plays an important role in conscious and unconscious processing of emotional and highly arousing stimuli, and it is generally suggested that the amygdala’s role in processing emotional and arousing stimuli mainly has to do with negative, aversive human emotions. More recently research is being conducted in attempts to differentiate more specifically between the roles of the left and right amygdalae in processing emotional/arousing stimuli. A wide and varying array of methods of research have been implemented on the topic of hemispheric lateralization of emotional processing, creating an even wider and more varied array of conclusions.

Glascher and Adolphs assessed “the effect of unilateral and bilateral amygdala damage on conscious and unconscious processing of visual emotional stimuli...” This study utilized lesion patients, verbal reports and a lateral electrooculogram (EOG) to ensure a lateralized presentation of subliminal and supraliminal stimuli, and skin conductance response (SCR) to measure autonomic arousal to the images presented. Left temporal damage patients (LTD), right temporal damage patients (RTD) and bilateral temporal damage patients (BTD) were tested in attempts to elucidate the different functions of the right and left amygdalae in emotion processing. The data suggests that “amygdala damage impairs both the physiological response and the cognitive evaluation to an arousing emotional stimulus.”1 Further delineating an important role for the right amygdala in the production of a general global level of autonomic arousal innately elicited by any arousing stimuli (there was a significant decrease in overall SCRs in RTD and BTD patients but normal responsiveness in LTD patients), and an important role for the left amygdala in cognitively appraising (discriminating between different magnitudes) arousal signaled by specific stimuli and in detecting stimulus arousal (arousal ratings correlated more positively with normative ratings in RTD patients than in LTD patients, and not at all in BTD patients). These findings may suggest that “humans use their internal physiological arousal response, in part to guide their cognitive assessment of stimuli.”1

Hamann et al. examines the neural correlates of negative and positive emotion using positron emission tomography (PET), focusing on the amygdala. This study had participants view positive (i.e., sexually arousing females) and negative (i.e., mutilated bodies), high-interest (i.e., unusual images) and low-interest (i.e., neutral images) images during PET scanning with the goal of examining the possible role of the amygdala in positive emotion. Hamann et al. hypothesized that “the failure of earlier neuroimaging studies to demonstrate amygdala activation associated with positive emotion was related to insufficient levels of positive emotional arousal elicited in participants.” So this study used only male participants as sexual arousing visual stimuli elicits greater emotional arousal for males than for females, and physiological and subjective emotional responses to stimuli were recorded to verify that the intended emotional states had been elicited. Positive emotion was associated with significant activation in the left amygdala as well as with additional activations in frontal and temporal regions. Negative emotion was associated with bilateral activation of the amygdala. “The functional role of these co-activated areas suggests that the amygdala participates in a larger network of areas involved in positive emotional states.”2

Both studies attempt to better clarify the role of the amygdala in processing human emotion; the former focused on the lateralization of functions of the amygdala and the latter addressed for the first time the role the amygdala plays in processing positive stimuli. One may feel inclined to conclude that the processing of positive emotion may require a bit more cognitive appraisal than the processing of negative emotion, when searching for a common link between the articles; the former suggested that the left amygdala may be more important for cognitively appraising arousal and detecting stimulus arousal, and the latter suggested that the left amygdala may be more important in processing positive emotion. It has been implied in numerous studies that the amygdala processes fear and negative emotions at an automatic level, but not much has been said about the automatic processing of positive emotions, therefore more cognitive appraisal of positive emotions may be necessary.

The problem with deriving this conclusion from these studies however, is that the latter study relied heavily on the subjective rating of arousal to confirm that the intended emotional and cognitive states had been elicited—this type of subjective rating is not necessarily sensitive to the types of impairments resulting from the amygdala lesioned patients presented in the former study. The latter study also relied on sexual material to represent positive stimuli, and so it is unclear whether the left amygdala was responding to positively arousing stimuli or simply to sexual stimuli. Together, these studies do however clarify more specifications of the human amygdala in processing emotion; the former provides support for the hypothesis that the left and right amygdalae serve different functions in emotion processing, and the latter constitutes the first neuroimaging evidence for a role of the amygdala in positive emotional reactions elicited by visual stimuli.

1. Glascher J, Adolphs R (2003) Processing of the Arousal of Subliminal and Supraliminal Emotional Stimuli by the Human Amygdala. J Neurosci 23(32):10274-10282.
2. Hamann, S.B., Ely, T.D., Hoffman, J.M., Kilts, C.D. (2002). Ecstasy and Agony: Activation of the Human Amygdala in Positive and Negative Emotion. Psychological Science, 13, 135-141.
3. Dolan, R.J. (2000). Emotional Processing in the Human Brain Revealed Through Functional Neuroimaging. In M.S.Gazzaniga (Ed.), The New cognitive Neurosciences (2nd ed., pp. 1067-1159). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.