Interpreter of emotions Text Nina Erho Photo Maija Astikainen Who are you? I’m Assistant Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience Lauri Nummenmaa. I work at the School of Science’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science, at the Brain Research Unit of the O.V. Lounasmaa Laboratory, in addition to which I’m a Research Fellow at the PET Centre in Turku. What do you research? I study the mechanisms of emotions and social interaction. The scale of the objects we research varies from neurotransmitter molecules all the way to complex functional neural networks and the behaviour of large groups of people. We apply the methods of brain research, but also directly measure human behaviour and observations through, for example, registering eye movements.
Further reading: Kätsyri, J., Ravaja, N., Hari, R., & Nummenmaa, L. (in press). The opponent matters: Elevated fMRI reward responses to winning against a human versus a computer opponent during interactive video game playing. Cerebral Cortex
What’s best about your job? Every day, I get to work with passionate and intelligent people, including a number of current and incipient top experts. I’m also enthusiastic about our equipment and of how it enables us to gauge the world’s most complex processes: emotions, consciousness and memory. And what is the most difficult part? Well, everything, because we don’t even attempt anything easy. It is necessary to test the limits of understanding.
How did you get into neuroscience? Already as a child, I was interested in human behaviour because so much about it is inexplicable, which is not often considered. Like my parents, I decided to study psychology. I was not, however, completely satisﬁed with the answers it provided and became interested in brain imaging techniques once they began to emerge. They provide an objective way to measure the functioning of the central nervous system and how it steers behaviour. Why did you choose a career in academia? I wanted to become a researcher because I’m interested in how things work. Industrial research positions are few and far between, so the university was, in a way, my only, if pleasant, option. What are you proud of professionally, what do you still want to achieve? We’ve managed to get together a good team that enjoys its work, and we’ve won a substantial amount of funding for our efforts. I hope that brain research is allowed to continue on a sufficient scale here in Finland and that it will help us understand human behaviour better and better.
Nummenmaa, L. (2010) Tunteiden psykologia (The Psychology of Emotions). Falun: Tammi. (in Finnish) Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Viinikainen, M., Jääskeläinen, I.P., Hari, R., & Sams, M. (2012) Emotions promote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109, 9599–9604.
AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 09 \ 33
The Aalto University Magazine issue 09 deals with questions related to health care.