Psychologists at Aalto University (AU) in Finland have conducted a study to decipher where on the human body emotion manifests.
Most people describe having “butterflies in your stomach” or having “your heart race with excitement” when experiencing love.
Depression is described as having a “dampened” feeling in the “arms, legs and head”; while danger feels like “strong sensations in the chest area”.
Lauri Nummenmaa, lead author of the study and psychologist for the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science at AU, explains: “Our emotional system in the brain sends signals to the body so we can deal with our situation. Say you see a snake and you feel fear. Your nervous system increases oxygen to your muscles and raises your heart rate so you can deal with the threat. It’s an automated system. We don’t have to think about it.”
Scientists have disagreed on how each emotion distinctly manifests as physical patterns on the human body.
Nummenmaa gathered 700 volunteers to participate in this experiment .
Volunteers were shown 2 blank silhouettes of persons on a screen and asked to determine their emotions by painting the areas of the body that were stimulated by that emotion.
Nummenmaa said: “We could then help clinicians to more accurately differentiate between different types of [emotional] disorders. Our data show bodily sensations associated with different emotions are so specific that, in fact, they could at least in theory contribute significantly to the conscious feeling of the corresponding emotion.”
The study published is entitled, “Bodily Maps of Emotion” and uses “a topographical self-report tool to reveal that different emotional states are associated with topographically distinct and culturally universal bodily sensations; these sensations could underlie our conscious emotional experiences.”
Nummenmaa assumes that this “unique tool for emotion research” could be used to “provide a biomarker for emotional disorders.”
The study concludes that “are represented in the somatosensory system as culturally universal categorical somatotopic maps. Perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes may play a key role in generating consciously felt emotions.”
Anotonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI), commented : “Nummenmaa’s findings offer more support for what he’s been suggesting for years: Each emotion activates a distinct set of body parts, he thinks, and the mind’s recognition of those patterns helps us consciously identify that emotion.”
Damasio said: “People look at emotions as something in relation to other people. But emotions also have to do with how we deal with the environment — threats and opportunities.”
Paul Zak, chair of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, remarked that the findings of this study are “unimpressive” and that the “weak design” of the study failed to show “how emotions work” and “doesn’t prove a thing.”