‘Emotional’ Map of the Human Body

Bodily topography of basic (Upper) and complex (Lower) emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion.

Bodily topography of basic (Upper) and complex (Lower) emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased
(warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion.

An interesting article was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  A team of Finnish scientists asked about 700 people where in their body they feel different emotions. Specifically, the participants “were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus.” Volunteers were asked to report bodily sensations to six basic and seven complex emotions, as well as a neutral state.

There were several interesting observations in this study.

They found that different emotions triggered distinct, statistically separable bodily sensation maps (BSMs).  Obviously everyone didn’t paint their sensations in the same way but clear signature patterns emerged with some overlap between them.

Similarities between bodily topographies.

Similarities between bodily topographies.

Moreover, those emotions diverged into distinct clusters.  Positive emotions clustered together; negative emotions diverged into four categories. The neutral emotional state did not resemble any of the emotional states and became a distinct category of its own.

They also show that the way we feel basic and complex emotions is culturally universal, as they observed that the results were consistent between people from different cultural backgrounds: West European (Finnish and Swedish) and East Asian (Taiwanese).

And finally, participants were grouped according to their native language, which belong to distant language families: Finnish (Uralic), Swedish (Germanic) and Taiwanese Hokkien (Chienese, Sinitic).  BSMs were also consistent between these groups.  By the way, you can participate in the experiment too (If interested click here).

The relationship between self-reported BSMs and physiological responses is currently unclear, but further research may provide new insights into emotional disorders.

References:
Nummenmaa L, Glerean E, Hari R, and Hietanen JK., Bodily maps of emotions, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Dec 30, http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111.abstract
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111.full.pdf+html

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