Bodily maps of emotions

Lauri Nummenmaaa, Enrico Glereana, Riitta Harib, and Jari K. Hietanend. ‘Bodily maps of emotions.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. November 27, 2013.

Reports of this research recently appeared in popular news media. It is interesting enough to warrant comment here.

Abstract
Emotions are often felt in the body, and somatosensory feedback has been proposed to trigger conscious emotional experiences. Here we reveal maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions using a unique topographical self-report method. In five experiments, participants (n = 701) 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. Different emotions were consistently associated with statistically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments. These maps were concordant across West European and East Asian samples. Statistical classifiers distinguished emotion-specific activation maps accurately, confirming independence of topographies across emotions. 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.

Full text of the article is available here. Supporting information here.

Some comments

1. The colourful images attract our attention but note that are not the result of body scanning. They are a pictorial representation of the subjects’ reports of how their bodies felt. They are subjective reports.

2.  Subjective reports, of course, can be valuable. To discover how people feel there seems little alternative. But the images can easily leave the impression that they are the result of scans of somatic changes.

3. These findings complement the theoretical work of Antonio Damasio (which is examined in Unit 5 of this course), particularly his distinction between emotions as objective somatic states and feelings as awareness of those states.

4. This paper and its images remind us that emotions ‘live’ in the entire body, and not just the bit above the shoulders. They are somatic states, not just cognitions.

Finally, for our purposes, these maps are useful in getting us to think about how we experience emotions. The important questions: Do they resonate with your own experiences?

Maps of bodily emotions

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