What Science Says about the importance of labeling our feelings.
Putting feelings into words: affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli.
Putting feelings into words (affect labeling) has long been thought to help manage negative emotional experiences; however, the mechanisms by which affect labeling produces this benefit remain largely unknown. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest a possible neurocognitive pathway for this process, but methodological limitations of previous studies have prevented strong inferences from being drawn. A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of affect labeling was conducted to remedy these limitations. The results indicated that affect labeling, relative to other forms of encoding, diminished the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions to negative emotional images. Additionally, affect labeling produced increased activity in a single brain region, right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC). Finally, RVLPFC and amygdala activity during affect labeling were inversely correlated, a relationship that was mediated by activity in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). These results suggest that affect labeling may diminish emotional reactivity along a pathway from RVLPFC to MPFC to the amygdala.
Lieberman MD1, Eisenberger NI, Crockett MJ, Tom SM, Pfeifer JH, Way BM.
Here’s What it Means to Us: The Brain’s Braking System
The activity that takes place in the RVLPFC when one labels an emotion acts as a “braking” system for the brain. It slows down the reaction of the limbic system (emotional seat) of the brain. We can literally help kids start “putting on the brakes” to emotional reactions by helping them learn to label feelings. Identifying feelings one of the first parts of social-emotional literacy.