Pathways to Joy - the Neurobiological Account
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Project Duration
January 1 / 2013
- June 30 / 2015
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Philippe Nicolas Tobler
Institution University of Zurich

The primary purpose of the grant is to investigate whether and how neuroscience can contribute to increasing joy in people's lives. Given the importance of joy and the presumed control of emotions by the brain, surprisingly little is known about the neurobiological underpinning of increasing joy. Here we approach this question in a series of experiments, using behavioral and neuroimaging methods. The aim is to elucidate causal neurobiological mechanisms related to increasing joy.

Correlational studies provide the building blocks for an experiment in which we aim to make people more joyful with a neuroimaging-based training approach. One experiment investigates the role of extrinsic rewards in eliciting joy as opposed to intrinsic up-regulation by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Another experiment investigates the neural effects of a psychological intervention to increase joy. If these experiments are successful, the regions showing commonly enhanced activation in both experiments will serve as regions of interest for the neuroimaging feedback training.

These experiments will provide novel insights into the neural implementation of joy and will illuminate the promises but also the limitations and pitfalls of the neurobiological approach to joy. Results may have the potential of revealing a behavioral and non-pharmacological path to increasing joy. More generally, we envisage that the present research will have an impact on the understanding of positive emotions, their differentiability into joy and happiness and their neural underpinning.

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