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Lecture 1: Basic concepts

Emotion is a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.
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Welcome back to the course Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry. Now we will start the third session of the course, which will focus on the issues of emotion, which is very relevant to patient management in dental practice. After this class, you will learn to recognize the basic concepts of emotion, from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience, and to identify the role of our brain in emotion processing. The best way to understand emotion is to check up a dictionary to see how the term is used in daily language. It is a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationship with others. So from this definition, we can see that emotion is associated with our interaction with the environment and other people.
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Moreover, it is not just a feeling, an inner experience, but also related to some explicit behaviour. For example, if you feel threatened, you may run away. How the feeling and behaviour are linked, and why such a link differs in different people – these are the key questions in cognitive neuroscience.
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Now, this slide would be very important. I would like to show you several ‘highlights’ that researchers focus on in the science of emotion. First, when someone says ‘I feel anxious,’ we need to further consider if the current environment or state makes him nervous. Or that means the person himself tends to be anxious regardless of when or where he is. In anxiety, clarifying if anxiety is related to the state or the personal trait would be a critical point for managing anxiety. For strong state anxiety, we need to spot if there is an anxiety-provoking situation and manage it. If a patient has a stronger personal trait to be anxious, we need to manage the patient first.
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The second point is that emotion does not mean pure impulsivity without thinking, and ‘cognition’ does not mean pure calculation, like a computer or Mr Spock. As we will see in many cases in this course, patients’ emotion depends on how they think or interpret what is going on. And when we work very hard for some complex problems, such as making a hard medical decision, emotion still plays a critical role in influencing our decisions. Finally, as we have mentioned, the current research highlights the importance of social interaction in emotion. We will see this later. For example, we feel sad when others reject us, and we feel happy when accepted by others. Social interaction plays a major role in our emotions.
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Now psychologists want to clarify how different emotional experiences are related to each other. Can we build up a model to describe their relationships? A basic and useful idea is to categorize emotional experiences with different dimensions or factors. For example, emotional experiences can be plotted according to the degree of arousal and valence, i.e., good or bad. For example, surprise and fear will evoke strong physiological responses, with a high degree of arousal. Of course, to fully describe the association, we may need more dimensions or factors. For example, we may need to plot how persistent an experience is because some emotional experiences may last longer than others.
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It should be noted that these models do not explain the mechanisms why we have such experience. And clinically, we usually find patients have more than one experience co-existing. For example, a patient may get mad about his new denture and the same time, show much worry about losing teeth. Here I want to emphasize, again, that the dimensional models or the ‘categories’ of emotional experiences are widely adopted in our daily life. We tend to classify one’s emotional experience into a specific type. As one of my favourite songs said, “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, we can change our emotional experience from one label to another label. However, different emotional experiences are related to each other.
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For example, it is hard to disentangle the feeling of surprise and fear because a threat usually surprises us. When something good happens, it also surprises us. From the point of cognitive neuroscience, a sudden threat and a sudden reward are both surprising because they are against the prediction formed by our brain. And later on, we will see that fear and anger are also related, and that may explain why dental patients may become irritated and ill-tempered when they feel nervous about the treatment.

Welcome to the third session of Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry.

We hope you enjoy this course just as we do. We will start with the issues of emotion, which is very relevant to patient management in dental practice.

After this class, you will learn to recognize the basic concepts of emotion, from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience, and to identify the role of our brain in emotion processing.

What is emotion? What can arouse our emotions? And what does it relate to the behavior of dental patients?

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Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry

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