redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
That tightening you feel in your chest when you’re anxious, or that warm sensation that washes over your entire body when you feel loved – those sensations aren’t just in your head, according to new research which maps the physiological changes that accompany different emotions.
The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences, said that feelings can alter both our mental and physical states in response to various challenges detected in the environment around us. The sensations that arise due to the body changes are an essential part of the emotional experience, and the authors of the study reveal exactly how these emotions are experienced throughout the body.
Dr. Lauri Nummenmaa, an assistant professor in the Aalto University Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science, and colleagues discovered that the emotions most commonly experienced by people trigger strong sensations in the body. Furthermore, they found that the body maps of these sensations were topographically different based on the different emotions experienced.
“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,” the university explained in a statement. The study was conducted online, and involved over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan, each of whom were asked to color in the parts of the body when they felt activity increasing or decreasing.
Dr. Nummenmaa and his colleagues conducted five experiments, each involving between 36 and 302 of the 701 total participants. Those subjects reported bodily sensations linked to six basic and seven complex emotions, as well as a neutral state, and colored in the images on a computer based on what they experienced.
Using linear-discriminant analysis, the investigators found that the study participants classified neutral state and basic emotions with a mean accuracy of 72 percent. Furthermore, they were able to discriminate all emotions from each other (complete classification) more than one-third of the time, the study authors reported.
According to Dr. Nummenmaa, by adjusting our bodily states, emotions help prepare us to react quickly to dangers as well as to more pleasurable social interactions present in the environment around us. Awareness of these physical changes could help trigger conscious emotional sensations such as happiness, he added.
“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,” the university said. The study was funded in part by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Academy of Finland.
Image 2 (below): Different emotions are associated with discernible patterns of bodily sensations. Credit: Dr. Lauri Nummenmaa, Aalto University