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We all know what makes each of us feel good – a long bike ride in the country, for example, or visiting with dear friends, or listening to a favorite symphony.
But exactly what is happening in the brain to make these kinds of activities produce the warm glow of contentment? What makes some people more upbeat than others? Why does lack of sleep bring most people down, yet elevate mood in some depressed people? What specific areas of the brain are important in controlling our desires to connect with others?
Seven of the world’s leading emotion researchers – scientists who tackle these and related questions on a daily basis – will convene in Madison April 13-14 to discuss the answers.
More than 300 professionals and students will also be on hand for the event, the sixth annual Wisconsin Symposium on Emotion. This year’s program focuses on “The Neurobiology of Positive Emotion.”
“Scientists have begun to redirect their attention from problems that produce disease to brain systems that regulate positive emotions and their relationship to key physiological systems affecting health,” says Ned Kalin, director of the HealthEmotions Research Institute, symposium sponsor. “This approach can help us develop new strategies to promote health by decreasing susceptibility and increasing resilience to disease.”
The symposium does more than serve as a setting for pointed discussions of the latest findings by the finest minds in the field, says Kalin, who is also chair of the Medical School psychiatry department. An equally important goal is exposing students of all levels to a discipline that is on the verge of exploding with promising new information.
A Travel Award Program set up two years ago by the institute provides travel and accommodations for 85 post-doctoral trainees, medical students, residents, and graduate and undergraduate students from across the United States, Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom.
UW–Madison students enrolled in psychology seminar 711 also highlight the educational emphasis of the symposium. All semester, they’ve been immersed in journal articles by scientists who will be speaking at the meeting, forming a detailed picture of each presenter’s area of expertise. Armed with this knowledge, the students will lead discussion sessions following each expert’s talk and will be prepared to throw in their own questions and observations.
The roster of symposium speakers includes:
- Antonio Damasio of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, who will speak on the neurobiology of emotion.
- Richard Davidson of UW–Madison’s Center for the Study of Mind-Body Interaction, who will talk about individual differences in positive affect.
- David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who will discuss sleep, sleep deprivation and affect.
- Michela Gallagher of Johns Hopkins University, who will discuss contributions of the amygdala to motivation.
- Thomas Insel of Emory University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, who will address the neurobiology of attachment.
- Edmond Rolls of Oxford University, on how the brain computes emotion.
- Wolfram Schultz of the University of Freibourg, on brain areas involved in reward processing.
“The topic of this year’s symposium is especially exciting because it perfectly matches the objective of the Health Emotions Research Institute, which is to understand how positive states of mind influence health,” Kalin says. “UW’s new Center for the Study of Mind-Body Interactions will reinforce the institute’s efforts in pursuit of this objective.”