Understanding and controlling emotions mean paying attention to our overall happiness and well-being. Besides, emotions control our thinking, behavior and actions. Feelings affect our physical bodies as much as our body affects our feelings and thinking.
Researchers from Aalto University, Finland found that different emotional states have different effects on bodily sensations. They revealed maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions using a unique topographical self-report method.
People who ignore, or just ventilate their emotions, are setting themselves up for physical illness. Being emotionally stable also important for our life-style – people with good emotional health are resilient in the face of challenges, find ways to express their creativity, and understand the importance of social connections.
The authors of the study used over 700 participants from West Europe and East Asia, who were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. After that the participants were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while consistently associated with statistically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments.
The results showed that the most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area (facial musculature activation, skin temperature) as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events. 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. The non-basic emotions showed a much smaller degree of bodily sensations and spatial independence, with the exception of a high degree of similarity across the emotional states of fear and sadness, and their respective prolonged, clinical variants of anxiety and depression.
The researchers conclude that this map of bodily sensations is really helpful to visualize and target an ideal mind-body state as connected to an emotion. These results help us to better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which are accompanied by altered emotional processing and somato–sensation.