Imagine driving down the highway. You’re late, so you’re going a few miles over the speed limit. A jerk, going 40 miles per hour in a blue compact car cuts in front of you without using his blinker.

Can you feel the anger bubble up in your chest? The irritation burn in your throat?

Fascinating new research by scientists in Finland have made body maps of where we feel emotion. I think this is one of the coolest experiments I have seen in a long time; check out the body maps:

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Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 11.17.09 AM

A few amazing facts about this study:

  • They did find that these body emotion maps are the same across cultures. In other words, we feel fear the same way someone in East Asia or Western Europe feels fear. Here’s the academic jargon:

“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.”

  • Most of the basic emotions had elevated activity in the upper chest area. The researchers guess this corresponds with changes in breathing and heart rate.
  • All of the emotions produced sensations in the head. This reflects that most emotions produce both facial expressions and mental reflection.
  • In the emotions that typically have active response, there was sensation shown in the upper limbs—as if the body was getting ready to act.
  • Depressed emotions like sadness and depression had a decrease in limb activity. I believe there is no coincidence that people who are sad and depressed have a lack of motivation to do anything—the lowered activity in the limbs reflects this.
  • Happiness was one of the few emotions that was felt throughout the body…one of the reasons happiness is so exhilarating, it literally lights up our whole body.


The implications for this study are enormous.

  • This could help therapists better understand emotions of patients.
  • This could help doctors understand injuries and medication.
  • This could help lie detectors with detecting true and false emotions.

How do you think this study could change the way we look at emotions?


“Bodily maps of emotions.” Lauri Nummenmaaa, Enrico Glereana, Riitta Harib, and Jari K. Hietanend. Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science and Brain Research Unit, O. V. Lounasmaa Laboratory, School of Science, Aalto University, FI-00076, Espoo, Finland; Turku PET Centre, University of Turku, FI-20521, Turku, Finland; and Human Information Processing Laboratory, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere, FI-33014, Tampere, Finland

5 replies on “Emotion Maps: How Emotions Change in the Body”

  1. Jake

    This reminds me of the TED talk “Little Liars” ( where facial blood streams would get flushed when a person is lying. But, the presenter did not consider other possibilities of getting nervous or just anger. This study breaks it down even further into the fundamental expressions. Gotta love it. Together with incongruent body language compared to the spoken words, now we can a working next gen. polygraph.

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hey Vicki! From the researchers: “we used a topographical self-report tool to reveal that different emotional states are associated with topographically distinct and culturally universal bodily sensations” You can read more from the original study here:

      Danielle | Science of People Team

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