Imaging Study Probes Brain Activity During 'Aha' Moments

A new study from China suggests learning to accept frustrating experiences, on an unconscious level, helps improve both social functioning and health.

Life is full of aborted goals, from dating, university admission, to job hunting, and so on. Where there is goal pursuit, there are setbacks and frustrations.

Learning to cope with frustration is of vital importance to human life. Chinese researchers determined that unconscious priming of an acceptance attitude works well in reducing frustrating emotion. At the same time, the subliminal patience does not reduce cognition and stabilizes mood.

This skill provides an important perspective for the coping of daily frustration, the education of adaptive coping and the development of healthy personality.

Development of this approach encourages people to adopt an accepting, observing, non-judgmental attitude to frustrating emotions, rather than trying to avoid or modify them.

The approach is superior to the conscious acceptance of negative emotions which may intensify immediate unpleasant feelings, despite benefits for long-term health.

Also, exercising acceptance entails dropping our natural, instinctual responses to frustration, but instead learning to accept whatever we experience. Obviously, this process is costly and effortful.

For the study, researchers used a difficult arithmetic task paired with feedback to induce frustrating emotion.

The results confirmed that conscious, effortful acceptance of frustrating emotion resulted in a short-term reduction of positive affects — a typical symptom of state depression. However, these side effects were eliminated, when this intervention was realized by unconsciously priming subjects with the acceptance attitude.

To induce unconscious acceptance, subjects were asked to select four out of five words, one of which is semantically related to “acceptance,” to make up a proper sentence.

After this, performing the frustrating task was associated with significantly reduced physiological costs but little reduction of positive affects.

These findings suggest that unconscious formation of accepting attitude may work better than conscious acceptance to reduce frustrating emotional responses.

Source: Science China Press/EurekAlert!