The mature brain has the ability not only to register emotions but also to reappraise them before taking action. Adults, unlike children and adolescents, can mentally detach themselves from the emotions they experience, label them, and place them in context-in short, realize what they feel, why they feel it, and how they choose to react to it.


It’s a useful skill in many situations, particularly when faced with stress or a profound emotional disturbance. Reappraising a situation can make you feel better or worse about it.

Adults who crash the car on an ice-covered road initially may feel anger or embarrassment. However, after a few moments’ reflection, they can choose to think about how much worse the accident could have been. Nobody was injured, the car was insured, and as soon as the tow truck arrives, they can get on with the day.

An adolescent brain, with a less developed prefrontal cortex, may dwell on the negatives and not see the other sides of the issue. That’s why, to a teenager, a romantic breakup may indeed seem to be the end of the world.

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles reported in 2005 that adults can decrease their emotional responses if they examine them with an outside observer’s detachment. Neuroscientist Golnaz Tabibnia found activity in the amygdala signifying an emotional response when test subjects looked at pictures of angry faces. As soon as the subjects thought to themselves, That’s anger, they activated the linguistic regions of their prefrontal cortices, and the emotional activity in their amygdala decreased. Labeling the emotion reduces its impact, Tabibnia said.


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