Feeling blue today? You might not be far from the truth.
A team of biomedical engineers in Finland asked subjects from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan to map out where they felt emotions on their bodies, using different colors. The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), involved the use of computer-generated silhouettes of the human body as a map of emotions.
A kaleidoscope of emotions
The participants were exposed to words, stories, clips, or facial expressions designed to elicit feelings from them. Afterwards, the researchers asked the participants to color the specific parts of the body where each of the 14 emotions included in the study registered. Shades of red and yellow were used to represent a rise in emotional intensity, while blue signified an emotional drop.
The researchers’ findings revealed that, based on which parts of the body reacted, certain emotions could be taken as a group. Anger, anxiety, pride, and fear, for example, resulted in intense colors in the upper body area, particularly the chest. Envy resulted in the same color map, albeit quite weaker.
On the other hand, sadness, shame, and depression displayed a consistent kind of numbness in the extremities. In the case of depression, the emotion seemed to paint a picture of an immobile body – the ability to move is seemingly sapped by the gravity of negative emotions felt by the participants. As for shame, emotional activity was noticeable in the stomach region, just like disgust.
Meanwhile, love and happiness covered numerous areas of the body with brighter colors. Happiness in particular appeared to be felt all over the body, while love seemed to render a person’s legs unable to feel.
Interestingly, most of the participants’ bodily activity during instances of contempt involved increased sensation in the neck and head. The least colorful emotion is, perhaps unsurprisingly, neutrality.
The researchers wrote that all of these emotions were felt in the head area, “reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area (i.e., facial musculature activation, skin temperature, lacrimation) as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.”
Additionally, the researchers were confident that their results were accurate depictions of “subjective emotion –related bodily sensations.”
“Our data highlight that consistent patterns of bodily sensations are associated with each of the six basic emotions, and that these sensations are represented in a categorical manner in the body,” claimed the researchers.
Look and feel
“Our emotional system in the brain sends signals to the body so we can deal with our situation,”according to study leader Lauri Nummenmaa, a psychologist at Aalto University.
The research also reveals that emotions were felt in the same way by participants from either Western Europe or East Asia. This suggests that patterns based on emotional perception actually remain consistent, even across cultures.
“Different emotions were consistently associated with statistically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments,” the researchers explained in their paper. “We propose that emotions are represented in the somatosensory system as culturally universal categorical somatotopic maps. Perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes may play a key role in generating consciously felt emotions.”
However, due to the fact that these color representations were merely reported by the participants, the researchers are unsure as to how well the color maps match the actual psychological responses that each emotion entails.
Still, Nummenmaa believes that previous studies support their findings: “For instance, with depression sometimes people have pain in their chest.”
The researchers also endorsed the idea of measuring blood flow when specific emotions are felt, in order to separate physiological processes from perceptions that may contain bias.
Here’s the actual test, which Nummemaa and his team kept online because “[people found] the experiment quite amusing.”
Here’s hoping that your body will glow in red and yellow hues on February 14. — TJD, GMA News