Feeling blue or in the pink?

Bodily topography of basic (Upper) and nonbasic (Lower) emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions whose activation increased (warm colors) or decreased (cool colors) when feeling each emotion. (Credit: Lauri Nummenmaa et al./PNAS)

Green with envy, feeling blue, being in the pink.... just ways of depicting an emotional state. Well, apparently there is more to these sayings than one would think.  

Researchers at the Aalto university investigated how emotions are connected to specific body sensations and have involved a sample of 700 volunteers to describe what they felt, at body level, as result of an emotion.

The researchers induced an emotion and then presented the person with an image on a computer screen of a body and asked him/her to draw in warm colours the parts of the body that were felt as involved in a positive way, and in a cold color (bluish) those that felt involved in a negative way.

Interestingly, it turns out that different people feel the same kind of body sensations when experiencing a specific emotion. This uniformity applies also to different culture and races, and in a way it is quite surprising. Different races, and cultures, manifest emotions in different ways, Italians are well known to manifest emotions transparently whilst Japanese, on the opposite, tend to mask feelings. Well these different ways of showing off emotions are not corresponding to the ways each of us experience emotions at the body level. Here we are all alike!

In perspective, with sensors picking up body changes (temperature, heart beat, breathing, perspiration...) it will become easier and easier to "tell" what one person is "feeling". This can be seen as a further step towards the loss of privacy, but scientists are already experimenting with people to use these hints for learning how to control emotions and achieve more balance responses under stress. 

At the EIT ICT Labs we are doing a little bit of investigation in this area, and Aalto is one of our Partners.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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