A recent study has provided new insights into the human brain. Scientists seem to have discovered a “happiness zone” in the brain. That zone responds to electrical stimulation. This discovery opens the door to multiple possibilities in the treatment of a variety of pathologies.
The research actually started with a project that used electrical stimulation to map the brains of patients with epilepsy.
However, the researchers found that stimulation of the cingulum bundle always caused laughter or smiles in the subjects. It also seemed to induce feelings of well-being, pleasure and tranquility.
Scientists already knew that stimulating certain parts of the brain could lead to an uncontrollable urge to laugh. However, this is the first time they have been able to identify one of those brain regions. They also found that stimulating that area of the brain could significantly reduce anxiety.
The research that led to the discovery of the happiness zone
So the team of neuroscientists from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia studied patients with epilepsy. They used small electrodes to electrically stimulate certain parts of the brain. Their objective was to obtain information about the source of the patients’ seizures.
However, they were in for a complete surprise when they stimulated the cingulum bundle of one of the subjects’ brains (the cingulum bundle is a channel of white matter that connects the different brain regions).
They noticed that the patient started to laugh in an uncontrollable way. A while later, the subject also reported that he felt relaxed and calm.
Then they decided to show the subject a series of facial expressions. They found that the patient scored the expressions higher on the happiness scale when the cingulum bundle was stimulated. So that’s an indication that the patient was in a better mood.
In addition, they measured the patient’s cognitive level while stimulating the cingulum bundle. In this regard, the subject completed memory, attention, and language tests.
The researchers could not see a measurable difference in cognition during the electrical stimulation. This means that apparently it does not interfere with cognition at all.
The scientists also tested the rest of the subjects. They showed the same reactions to the electrical stimulation. They also all reported a sense of calm and laughing out of control.
Why does this brain region affect the mood?
The cingulum bundle is located under the cerebral cortex and is curved around the midbrain. This happiness zone is located in the upper frontal area. It is a part of the brain where many different areas of the brain that deal with complex emotions connect with each other.
The white matter that crosses the cingulum bundle connects the different lobes of the brain. When you stimulate the cingulum bundle, other networks that extend to different parts of the brain can also be affected. In other words, it indeed seems that this is an intermediate link to the other brain zones.
Jon T. Willie was one of the scientists on the team. He likens the “happiness zone” to a superhighway that has many entrances and exits. The team believes they may have found a gateway to several networks that regulate mood, social interaction and emotions.
What does this mean for the future?
What is one of the most exciting possibilities of this discovery? We could use the electrical stimulation of the cingulum bundle to treat anxiety, depression or even chronic pain.
Yet another possible application is that we can use this technique during neurosurgical procedures. After all, it would make these procedures a more pleasant experience for the patients who have to stay awake during the procedure.
However, the general public will have to wait. The reason is that this treatment currently requires a serious and invasive surgical procedure. The electrodes must be placed directly on the brain. This means that you have to undergo a risky invasive procedure.
Yet this is a very important discovery. It brings us one step closer to understanding the human brain. Hopefully, scientists can use this new information to improve or replace mood interventions in the future.