A new study by Finnish researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, suggests that our emotions do indeed tend to influence our bodies in consistent ways.
Across five experiments, 701 participants “were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus.”
The emotions were generated by having the subjects read short stories or watch movies. On a blank, computerized figurine, they were then asked to color in the areas of their body where sensations became stronger (the red and yellow) or weaker (blue and black) when they felt a certain way.
We often experience emotions directly in the body. When strolling through the park to meet with our sweetheart we walk lightly with our hearts pounding with excitement, whereas anxiety might tighten our muscles and make our hands sweat and tremble before an important job interview. Numerous studies have established that emotion systems prepare us to meet challenges encountered in the environment by adjusting the activation of the cardiovascular, skeletomuscular, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous system. This link between emotions and bodily states is also reflected in the way we speak of emotions: a young bride getting married next week may suddenly have “cold feet,” severely disappointed lovers may be “heartbroken,” and our favorite song may send “a shiver down our spine.”
Both classic and more recent models of emotional processing assume that subjective emotional feelings are triggered by the perception of emotion-related bodily states that reflect changes in the skeletomuscular, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous systems. These conscious feelings help the individuals to voluntarily fine tune their behavior to better match the challenges of the environment. Although emotions are associated with a broad range of physiological change, it is still hotly debated whether the bodily changes associated with different emotions are specific enough to serve as the basis for discrete emotional feelings, such as anger, fear, or happiness and the topographical distribution of the emotion-related bodily sensations has remained unknown.
In the study, different emotions were associated with statistically clearly separable bodily sensation maps that were consistent across West European (Finnish and Swedish) and East Asian (Taiwanese) samples, all speaking their respective languages. Statistical classifiers discriminated emotion-specific activation maps accurately, confirming independence of bodily topographies across emotions.
How interesting to see the different cultures responding similarly with their bodies, through their emotions. Love really does make us warm all over 🙂