What if he (or she) can’t read your emotions?

If someone you care about can’t read your emotions from the look on your face, their prefrontal cortex might be the reason.

Prefrontal cortex in yellow. Via The Nerve Blog

Neuropsychology researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital and McGill University have found that certain parts of the brain are critical for either detecting or distinguishing emotions from facial expressions.

What does that mean? It means that if your sweetie forgot to bring you flowers on Valentine’s Day, and the sad look on your face simply didn’t register in his mind, there’s a chance he can’t help it. The problem might be in his prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex – part of the frontal lobes of the brain – is the part of the brain related to planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, decision-making and moderating correct social behavior. According to Wikipedia:

The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.

Those with damage to the prefrontal cortex region of the brain have difficulty understanding emotions from facial expressions, say McGill University researchers.

The McGill University researchers are saying that people with damage to the prefrontal cortex cannot understand the wide variety of facial expressions that convey social signals, which are important for anyone trying to navigate their way in society. And not only on Valentine’s Day.

Dr. Lesley Fellows, lead investigator, and her student Ami Tsuchida studied a large sample of patients with damage to various regions within the PFC, testing to see where damage had the biggest impact on emotion recognition. The result of their tests led to conclusions about two sub-regions of the PFC that until now had been little studied. Dr. Fellows said:

Patients with damage to the ventromedial PFC had a hard time distinguishing a neutral facial expression from emotional ones. Patients with left ventrolateral PFC damage recognized that an emotion was present in the expression, but had difficulty telling one emotion from another.

So if your sweetie forgot flowers on this Valentine’s Day 2012, and he didn’t even notice your sad look, his brain might be the reason. On the other hand … maybe he’s just ignoring you. If so … try this.

Via McGill University