Friday, October 3, 2014

The cartography of emotion

Image: Finnish researchers have found specific patterns
of body sensations which correspond to each emotion.

Emotions, it is thought, evolved to provide animals with behavioral templates for their survival. They trigger changes in both the mind and body which help humans and other animals instinctively deal with environmental challenges.

Emotions change both our mental and physical states, enabling us to rapidly deal with danger, while also indicating potentially rewarding social interactions or rewards available in the environment.

The physical sensations arising from these biochemical changes are an important aspect of emotions. For example, while romantic love may elicit feelings of warmth and pleasure all over the body, deep sadness might give rise to a feeling of tightness in the chest.

In December 2013, researchers at Finland's Aalto University first attempted to systematically map the effects of emotions in the body.

Over 700 subjects from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan took part in the online study. The research team elicited varying emotional states in their participants, then invited them to use computer software to color regions of the body where they felt increased or decreased activity.

The researchers discovered that the strongest physical sensations come from the most common emotions, and the pattern of body sensations varies according to each emotion. However, these varying body sensation patterns are consistent in both eastern Asian and western European cultures, showing that emotions - and the body sensations to which they give rise - have biological origins distinct from any cultural origins.

Some theories suggest that conscious emotions follow sensations rather than the other way around - that the biochemical changes in our body lead to the conscious recognition that we are feeling a specific emotion.

It's believed that this line of research will have profound implications for our knowledge of the physical aspects of emotions, emotional disorders, and will provide new means of diagnosing such disorders.

Source: "Finnish research team reveals how emotions are mapped in the body", press release, Lauri Nummenmaa, et al, Aalto University, December 31, 2013

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