April 17, 2024

Global Scientists Develop a Comprehensive Framework for the Human Affectome

A team of 173 scientists from 23 different countries have come together to develop a unifying framework for the Human Affectome, aiming to enhance our understanding of how emotions, feelings, and moods influence human behavior. The interdisciplinary task force, led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has created an integrative framework that encompasses the diverse range of affective phenomena that exist within the Human Affectome. Their efforts have been published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.

The Human Affectome refers to the vast array of words and concepts used to describe our daily experiences, from sensations and emotions to smells, sounds, tastes, and visual imagery. These experiences have a profound impact on our decision-making and behavior. However, the fragmented nature of research in this field has posed a challenge for researchers in finding a comprehensive and unified framework to study affective experiences and facilitate collaboration.

To address this challenge, the Human Affectome Project was initiated in 2016 by Neuroqualia, a Canadian non-profit organization. The task force utilized a computational linguistics approach to analyze data from over 4.5 million books, comprising nearly half a trillion words, and identified over 3,600 English language words that describe sensations, emotions, and moods.

The task force consisted of 12 teams of researchers who reviewed the current knowledge on feelings, emotions, and moods from a neuroscience perspective, while also examining the linguistic terms commonly used to describe these experiences. Through this collaborative effort, a model was developed to integrate these experiences into a single unifying framework. The capstone synthesis was led by Professor Daniela Schiller and PhD candidate Alessandra C. Yu from the Schiller Lab at Icahn Mount Sinai, along with Neuroqualia’s President, Dr. Leroy Lowe.

The resulting framework categorizes affective experiences based on their valence (positive or negative) and their association with energy levels or arousal. These experiences are further grouped into physiological concerns (e.g., hunger), operational concerns (e.g., fear), and global concerns (e.g., overall well-being). The framework highlights the fact that individuals continually monitor and manage multiple concerns within their comfort zones. When they encounter experiences outside of these zones, stress is created and restorative behaviors are triggered to preserve well-being.

This comprehensive framework will be particularly useful in studying mental health disorders characterized by significant alterations in emotions and mood, such as depression and anxiety. It will also contribute to a better understanding of how emotions, feelings, and moods influence decision-making and human behavior across various fields. Moreover, the framework has implications for the field of artificial intelligence, empowering researchers to develop computers and robots capable of simulating human emotions and feelings for diverse tasks.

Dr. Schiller expressed her enthusiasm about the collaborative nature of this endeavor, stating, “As neuroscientists, we typically focus on the cognitive processes and brain mechanisms underlying specific aspects of affective experiences. It has been refreshing and extremely helpful to collaborate with this group to develop a framework that can accommodate all affective experiences with unified terminology and agreement on their purpose.”

This work represents a significant milestone, providing a unifying framework that brings together various models and lines of research, allowing for an integrative understanding of the Human Affectome as a whole. The researchers hope that this framework will foster discussions and collaborations among scientists working in this field, ultimately advancing our knowledge of the complex relationship between affective experiences and human behavior.

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