People worldwide may feel mind-body connections in same way

by Randy Dotinga, Healthday Reporter
Maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions. Hot colors show activated, cool colors deactivated regions. Credit: Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.

(HealthDay)—Many phrases reflect how emotions affect the body: Loss makes you feel "heartbroken," you suffer from "butterflies" in the stomach when nervous, and disgusting things make you "sick to your stomach."

Now, a new study from Finland suggests connections between emotions and parts may be standard across cultures.

The researchers coaxed Finnish, Swedish and Taiwanese participants into feeling various emotions and then asked them to link their feelings to . They connected anger to the head, chest, arms and hands; disgust to the head, hands and lower chest; pride to the upper body; and love to the whole body except the legs. As for anxiety, participants heavily linked it to the mid-chest.

"The most surprising thing was the consistency of the ratings, both across individuals and across all the tested language groups and cultures," said study lead author Lauri Nummenmaa, an assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience at Finland's Aalto University School of Science.

However, one U.S. expert, Paul Zak, chairman of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, was unimpressed by the findings. He discounted the study, saying it was weakly designed, failed to understand how emotions work and "doesn't prove a thing."

But for his part, Nummenmaa said the research is useful because it sheds light on how emotions and the body are interconnected.

"We wanted to understand how the body and the mind work together for generating emotions," Nummenmaa said. "By mapping the bodily changes associated with emotions, we also aimed to comprehend how different emotions such as disgust or sadness actually govern bodily functions."

For the study, published online Dec. 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers showed two silhouettes of bodies to about 700 people. Depending on the experiment, they tried to coax feelings out of the participants by showing them emotional words, stories, clips from movies and facial expressions. Then the participants colored the silhouettes to reflect the body areas they felt were becoming most or least active.

The idea was to not mention emotions directly to the participants but instead to make them "feel different emotions," Nummenmaa said.

The researchers noted that some of the emotions may cause activity in specific areas of the body. For example, most were linked to sensations in the upper chest, which may have to do with breathing and heart rate. And people linked all the emotions to the head, suggesting a possible link to brain activity.

But Zak said the study failed to consider that people often feel more than one emotion at a time. Or that a person's own comprehension of emotion can be misleading since the "areas in the brain that process emotions tend to be largely outside of our conscious awareness," he said.

It would make more sense, Zak said, to directly measure activity in the body, such as sweat and temperature, to make sure people's perceptions have some basis in reality. Nummenmaa said he expects future research to go in that direction.

How might the current research be useful? Zak is skeptical that it could be, but the study lead author is hopeful.

"Many mental disorders are associated with altered functioning of the system, so unraveling how emotions coordinate with the minds and bodies of healthy individuals is important for developing treatments for such disorders," Nummenmaa said.

Next, the researchers want to see if these emotion-body connections change in people who are anxious or depressed. "Also, we are interested in how children and adolescents experience their emotions in their bodies," Nummenmaa said.

More information: "Bodily maps of emotions," by Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari K. Hietanen. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1321664111

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Huns
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2013
I think the research is useful despite what Paul Zak says. There are enough samples to get a good picture of what's going on, and the methodology obviously works or else all of those silhouettes would have a more or less even distribution rather than such sharp, obvious differences.

I can see why he would suggest that it's better to test with temperature and electrical current and all that, but that would leave out conscious perception. There can be a great deal of electrical activity somewhere, but if the person isn't conscious of it, it doesn't help answer the question of how they feel the mind-body connection.

Personally, I'm more interested in what can be consciously sensed because that is directly useful in CBT, meditation, and other practices. A map of electrical or heat activity that I can't consciously sense is useless in that scope.

Finally, Zak's statement that it "doesn't prove a thing" sounds more petulant than scientific. There's obvious emotion in that statement.
Diogenes Tha Dogg
not rated yet Dec 30, 2013
Huns,

I believe Paul Zak is referring to the what's commonly termed the "introspection illusion" ( http://en.wikiped...illusion ). People simply can't reliably report on their internal states. This research is unreliable for the same reason that Rorschach tests are unreliable.
Diogenes Tha Dogg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2013
The delineation of emotional states is even more ad hoc as the testing method. What's the ontological foundation for what even counts as a emotion? What's the difference between an emotion and a mood? Is sexual arousal an emotion? Where does love end and happiness begin? Even if somehow there was no bias from any of the respondents, the resultant dataset would be meaningless.
Huns
3 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2013
I believe Paul Zak is referring to the what's commonly termed the "introspection illusion" ( http://en.wikiped...illusion ). People simply can't reliably report on their internal states. This research is unreliable for the same reason that Rorschach tests are unreliable.

A few months ago, I felt very nervous, although there was no rational reason why I should. I looked around. There were no threats in evidence. No looming deadlines, things I'd forgotten to do, etc. I realized I didn't need to feel afraid, and that in fact it was counterproductive. I wondered if I really had to be afraid at all. I focused on my bodily sensation and realized that the fear was being reinforced by a tingling in my sternum that I'm not normally aware of. I could sense internally that the fear was anchored to that sensation, that it was a part of what told me I was afraid.

That experience was of real, practical use to me and continues to be to this day.
Huns
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2013
The delineation of emotional states is even more ad hoc as the testing method. What's the ontological foundation for what even counts as a emotion? What's the difference between an emotion and a mood? Is sexual arousal an emotion? Where does love end and happiness begin? Even if somehow there was no bias from any of the respondents, the resultant dataset would be meaningless.

"Watch the screen and indicate what sensations you feel in your body." That was the experiment. They didn't ask the participants to rationalize about their emotions - just to report physiological sensations. It was done with hundreds of individuals. Since the aim was to try to figure out how people experience emotions in their bodies, it seems like a success to me. If the results are "meaningless" why is there such sharp differentiation in the heat maps? Why isn't it all undifferentiated soup? The sample size is far too big for that to be a fluke.
Diogenes Tha Dogg
not rated yet Dec 31, 2013
People who are having panic attacks often report that they felt that they were dying. Enough people who have had panic attacks report that symptom for it to not be statistical noise.

Yet we don't bother asking people exactly how they felt like they were dying, or how close they felt to death. Why? Because it doesn't teach us anything we don't already know about panic attacks.
Diogenes Tha Dogg
not rated yet Dec 31, 2013
"Watch the screen and indicate what sensations you feel in your body." That was the experiment. They didn't ask the participants to rationalize about their emotions - just to report physiological sensations. It was done with hundreds of individuals. Since the aim was to try to figure out how people experience emotions in their bodies, it seems like a success to me. If the results are "meaningless" why is there such sharp differentiation in the heat maps? Why isn't it all undifferentiated soup? The sample size is far too big for that to be a fluke.


Yeah? And people talk about love being in their heart. Does that mean cardiologists are now marriage counselors?
Diogenes Tha Dogg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2013
A few months ago, I felt very nervous, although there was no rational reason why I should. I looked around. There were no threats in evidence. No looming deadlines, things I'd forgotten to do, etc. I realized I didn't need to feel afraid, and that in fact it was counterproductive. I wondered if I really had to be afraid at all. I focused on my bodily sensation and realized that the fear was being reinforced by a tingling in my sternum that I'm not normally aware of. I could sense internally that the fear was anchored to that sensation, that it was a part of what told me I was afraid.

That experience was of real, practical use to me and continues to be to this day.


No one said it wasn't real or useful. It's simply not science.
jibbles
not rated yet Dec 31, 2013
interesting idea but really terribly poorly designed study....
El_Nose
4 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2013
botom row second to last guy -- spider-man
Huns
1 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2014
Yeah? And people talk about love being in their heart. Does that mean cardiologists are now marriage counselors?

The point is that they figured out that people from different cultures experience physiological indicators in the same way. I don't know why this is going over your head. You're arguing about something they weren't even testing for. The introspection illusion is when a person confabulates an explanation for an emotion and feels agency about it, when in fact the emotion came from outside the conscious mind and without making use of any of its faculties. This test was about physiological sensations of many people across different cultures, not cognitive rationalization. Participants weren't asked why they felt certain sensations, nor what they indicated, but merely to report feeling them. That's all. It doesn't involve making up a story about why they felt them in the first place.
PhyOrgSux
5 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2014
I believe Paul Zak is referring to the what's commonly termed the "introspection illusion" ( http://en.wikiped...illusion ). People simply can't reliably report on their internal states. This research is unreliable for the same reason that Rorschach tests are unreliable.


Even if it does not prove, or even just "indicate", that the emotions somehow map to the same bodily areas, it would in worst case at least show that regardless of culture we seem to have very similar "introspection illusions".

Or in other words, regardless of culture our "introspection illusion" tells us that a specific emotion corresponds to a specific area in the body. In that case it would at least tell something about the "illusion".

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