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Could a computer, at a glance, tell the difference between a joyful image and a depressing one?

Could it distinguish, in a few milliseconds, a romantic comedy from a horror film?

Yes, and so can your brain, according to research published this week by University of Colorado Boulder neuroscientists.

"Machine learning technology is getting really good at recognizing the content of images -- of deciphering what kind of object it is," said senior author Tor Wager, who worked on the study while a professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder. "We wanted to ask: Could it do the same with emotions? The answer is yes."

Part machine-learning innovation, part human brain-imaging study, the paper, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, marks an important step forward in the application of "neural networks" -- computer systems modeled after the human brain -- to the study of emotion.

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Category: Science