Photo: Courtesy of PNAS.org.
We all know that emotions don't live only in our heads. The hair on our arms tends to stand on end when we feel fear, and our stomachs flutter when we're excited or nervous. But, now, a team of Finnish researchers has mapped a whole range of physical reactions caused by emotions.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, more than 700 participants were shown two blank silhouettes alongside words, movies, stories, and facial expressions. They were then asked to rate how they felt and where on their body they felt it, corresponding to the silhouettes. This created an overall picture of bodily responses to emotions, with depression and sadness leading to numbed feelings in the extremities and anxiety centered in the torso.
The researchers acknowledge that "[all] cultures have body-related expressions for describing emotional states" — such as "butterflies in the stomach" — that don't necessarily have an actual physiological link, and thus, some of the feelings experienced by the participants could be societally influenced rather than organic. But, even though they can't rule out such a possibility, the authors say the results of the study don't agree with that argument. Researchers claim they found a strong consensus in physical responses to a given emotion in people from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, suggesting that these are "universal sensation patterns triggered by activation of emotion systems."