Think about what it’s like when you feel love, shame, anxiety or surprise. Where do you feel that emotion in your body? Is it in your heart, cheeks, stomach, eyes?
A new study created “bodily maps of emotions” based on where people said they experienced the sensation of an emotion the most — or the least.
Scientists from Finland in five experiments had about 700 participants color silhouettes when they were shown emotions as words, stories, movies or facial expressions, the study abstract described. Warm colors — reds, oranges, yellows — were used to color an increase in sensation while cool colors — blues, purples — represented a decrease in sensation.
While each participant created a different drawing, when scientists put the data together, it revealed patterns of where the emotion was felt. Anger was felt primarily in the head, chest and arm region, while happiness was something felt all over the body, especially concentrated in the head and chest region. Depression was an emotion depicted by a body devoid of sensation, especially in the chest region.
“Here we used 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,” the authors wrote in the study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Monitoring the topography of emotion-triggered bodily sensations brings forth a unique tool for emotion research and could even provide a biomarker for emotional disorders.”
“People find the experiment quite amusing. It’s quite fun,” Nummenmaa said.