Falling in love can trigger a warm, pleasurable feeling all over the body while being anxious may be felt as pain in the chest, according to a new Finnish study which found common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations.
Researchers from Aalto University in Finland studied how emotions are experienced in the body.
They found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions.
However, the sensation patterns were 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 they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment,” said assistant professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University.
“Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness,” Nummenmaa said.
“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,” Nummenmaa said.
The research was carried out on over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan. The researchers induced different emotional states in their Finnish and Taiwanese participants.
Subsequently the participants were shown with pictures of human bodies on a computer, and asked to colour the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing.
“Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate,” the researchers said in Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences.
Sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area (ie, facial musculature activation, skin temperature, lacrimation) as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events, they said.
Sensations in the upper limbs were most prominent in approach-oriented emotions, anger and happiness, whereas sensations of decreased limb activity were a defining feature of sadness.
Sensations in the digestive system and around the throat region were mainly found in disgust. In contrast with all of the other emotions, happiness was associated with enhanced sensations all over the body, researchers found.