“This is nonsense, she knows it. I don’t need to say it I shouldn’t need to say it to anyone, isn’t it enough that I feel it? I feel it, for her, for you for Liam. I shouldn’t need to spout the words, I feel it less with words.”
– Col. Saul Tigh, Battlestar Galactica
When I watched this scene on a recent episode of BSG I wondered if it was a coincidence that recent studies have shown that this is exactly right. Not that you shouldn’t tell people how you feel but that doing so may actually inhibit those feelings.
Are you one of those people who chronicle their every thought and feeling in a diary? Well perhaps not everyone is an angst ridden teenage girl but new research published earlier this year suggests that simply putting feelings into words activates the areas of the brain involved in self control. In other words (no pun intended) verbalizing emotions can actually act to suppress those emotions. In this study subjects were shown pictures of people with positive or negative expressions and asked to label the emotion suggested by the expression. When they did this the subjects experienced an increase in activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with self-control. The lead author of the study Matthew Lieberman said of the effect, “Only when people are putting the feeling state into words do we see activity in this right prefrontal region. And what we’ve also seen is the more that region is activated, the less activity you see in a variety of limbic regions that are typically associated with affective or emotional processing.”.
This means that this approach could be used as an effective way to deal with emotional trauma, by writing about experiences people may exert regulatory control over the feelings, dampening their effects and so allowing the individual to become more calm.
On the other hand, while this may be a breakthrough for coping with negative emotions the same effect is seen for positive ones. Expressing your feelings is a two edged sword, where affection is concerned perhaps actions speak louder than words.