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Emotional Mapping in the Body

I read a most interesting article in the Scientific Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science recently, about something that is referred to as ‘Emotional Mapping’. I had never heard that term used before. Researchers have found that the most common emotions result in strong body sensations. The part of paper that intrigued me the most talks about the fact that there are body maps of these sensations and that these body maps were topographically different for different emotions. Emotional Mapping

Another aspect I found fascinating was that the sensation patterns were also consistent across a variety of different Western European and East Asian cultures. This means that the emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns actually have a biological basis.

A team of scientists in Finland, led by assistant professor, Lauri Nummenmaa, from Aalto University, asked people to indicate where they felt different emotions in their bodies. They found that the results were surprisingly consistent, even across cultures.

There were 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan. They carried out the study on line. The research team showed the volunteers two blank silhouettes of a person on a screen and then informed the subjects to think about one of 14 emotions: love, disgust, anger, pride, and so on. The volunteers were then asked to painted areas of the body that they felt were stimulated by that emotion. On the second silhouette, they were asked to paint areas of the body that felt ‘deactivated’ during that emotion.

Not everyone painted each emotion in a similar way, however, when the researchers averaged the maps together, amazingly enough, there were signature patterns that happened to emerge associated with each emotion.

“The findings have major implications for our understanding of the functions of emotions and their bodily basis. On the other hand, the results help us to understand different emotional disorders and provide novel tools for their diagnosis,” says Lauri Nummenmaa. She goes on to say, “Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment. Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness.”

They still don’t really know how these self-reported sensations match with the physiological responses that happen with emotion, although, previous studies have found marked changes in bodily sensations in mood disorders says Nummenmaa. She uses depression as an example, saying sometimes with depression, people have pain in their chest.

She also says that there’s even some evidence to show that when you change your own body language, like your posture or stance, you can alter your mind.

Nummernmaa was encouraged that people found the experiment quite amusing and fun to do, so they decided to keep the questions on line, so, you may try the experiment yourself….Here’s the link.

I highly recommend that you take a look at Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ“. He offers a wealth of important information on this subject. He says that our emotional intelligence — the way we manage emotions, both our own and those of others — can play a critical role in determining our happiness and success.

The results were published on 31 December, 2013 in the ‘Scientific Journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences’.

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Dr. Pamela Nathan DHM January 25, 2014