A group of Finnish scientists has taken the phrase “feeling the love” to a whole new level with the creation of a unique kind of body map that shows how emotions affect the human body.
Comprehensive surveys of more than 700 people from varying cultures and ethnicities has led to an intriguing finding: no matter our heritage or individual disposition, it appears that human beings physically experience emotions in the same way.
For the study, participants were presented with a computer program that depicted a human silhouette. After being presented with an emotional trigger—a movie, story, facial expression or word—the subjects were asked to mark where in their body they felt increased activity as well as where they felt decreased activity.
Mapping out the mind-body connection
The existence of mind-body connection has been accepted as an undeniable truth for decades—unconsciously clenched jaws and fists typically herald rage, while anxiety and stress tend to manifest in aches, pains and fluttering in the stomach.
This relationship is particularly strong for the six so-called “universal” human emotions—anger, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust and happiness. “The discernable sensation patterns associated with each emotion correspond well with the major changes in physiological functions associated with different emotions,” the study authors say. Feelings of disgust, for example, appeared to set off a flurry of commotion in an individual’s mouth and throat that extended all the way down through their digestive tract and into their abdomen.
Happiness was an interesting outlier; creating strong sensations throughout the body. Sadness and depression, on the other hand, were marked by distinct decreases in the amount of activity experience in the arms and legs—a finding that can likely be attributed to their status as negative emotions.
The resulting maps were based purely on self-reports—what each participant felt inside their own body—as opposed to charting actual biological activity such as blood flow and electrical pulses, but study authors hope their analysis of subjective physical experience may provide interesting insights for mental health professionals on how to identify and treat depression and other mood disorders. “Emotional feelings are associated with discrete, yet partially overlapping maps of bodily sensations, which could be at the core of the emotional experience…changes in emotion-triggered sensations in the body could thus provide a novel biomarker for emotional disorders.”
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