Research team reveals how emotions are mapped in the body

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Research team reveals how emotions are mapped in the body

Emotions adjust our mental and also bodily states to cope with the challenges detected in the environment. These sensations arising from bodily changes are an important feature of our emotional experiences. For example, anxiety may be experienced as pain in the chest, whereas falling in love may trigger warm, pleasurable sensations all over the body. New research from Aalto University reveals, how emotions are literally experienced through the body.

The researchers found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions. The sensation patterns were, however, consistent across different West European and East Asian cultures, highlighting that emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns have a biological basis.

Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way the prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment. Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness, says assistant professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University.

In experiments conducted online, the researchers showed over 700 participants – who were from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan – two silhouettes of bodies next to words, stories, movies or facial expressions that evoked emotions.

The participants were asked to colour regions of the body where they felt activity was increasing or decreasing as they viewed each stimulus.

Somatic mapping of emotion - Aalto University Research - psychotherapy manchester

Results show that the most common emotions – including anger, fear, depression, shame, happiness, sadness, anxiety and love – produce strong sensations in the body, but the location for these sensations varies for each different emotion.

For example, happiness triggered warm sensations throughout the whole body, whereas pride only activated the upper body, including the head and chest.

– The findings have major implications for our understanding of the functions of emotions and their bodily basis. On the other hand, the results help us to understand different emotional disorders and provide novel tools for their diagnosis.

Read the original publications here: and here


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Research team reveals how emotions are mapped in the body.

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