When do emotions become physical

: Anatomy of feelings: where do you feel which emotion?

Sadness is a lump in the throat, anger is in the stomach, lovesickness hurts in the heart. Finnish researchers have now shown that these are not just beautiful metaphors. You have made a body map of feelings. It can be seen that emotions such as anger, fear or joy can actually be felt in certain parts of the body.

The scientists from Aalto University in Esbo invited 700 test subjects to their laboratory for their experiments. There they presented them with words, stories, faces or films that arouse certain feelings, a method that emotion researchers often use. The participants should feel inside themselves. Where did something stir when they were happy? They marked the places of their feelings on silhouettes on the computer. They expressed the nature of the sensations through colors. If they did not feel any physical activity, they chose black. Yellow or red for particularly violent flushes. The researchers led by Lauri Nummenmaa are now reporting on the results in the specialist journal PNAS.

It showed that there was only one emotion affecting the whole body from toe to scalp: joy. If the test subjects saw or heard something that made them happy, they marked their entire bodies with warm colors. A feeling that not even love could keep up with, because the test subjects felt this everywhere, but not in their limbs. Arms and legs were unaffected by the love. The subjects felt disgust mainly in the mouth and stomach. Envy sits in the head. With sadness, legs and arms become weak, because the participants colored them a cold blue, the chest, on the other hand, a fiery red.

Chest tightness

Shame looks almost exactly like surprise on the anatomy of feelings. Both affect the head and especially the cheeks. It's not for nothing that you get a red head when something is embarrassing or the unexpected happens. The test subjects felt fear especially in the area of ​​the upper body, most strongly in the area around the heart.

The researchers write that the perception of feelings corresponds to measurable body functions. In the case of fear, for example, the heartbeat and breathing change, which can be mainly perceived in the upper body. The muscles tense as well. Anyone who is afraid thinks they can no longer breathe, feels a tightness in their chest. Emotional stress floods the heart and circulation with hormones. Adrenaline enters the bloodstream and affects the heart, blood vessels, stomach and intestines. Norepinephrine narrows small arteries, causing blood pressure to increase.

Escape at the right time

The fact that lovesickness mainly affects the heart is not only reflected in numerous expressions such as the broken heart. Scientists actually speak of broken heart syndrome in severe cases, a disease that was first observed in the 1990s. For example, after the end of a relationship or the loss of a loved one, patients showed symptoms that resemble a heart attack. You have chest pain. It stings in the heart.

The emotional patterns occurred regardless of the cultural background of the test subjects, who came from Northern Europe, but also from East Asia. All marked similarly. That speaks for an intercultural body feeling. The experiment also worked the other way round. If test subjects were only shown the colored body silhouettes on the computer, they could also name the corresponding emotions. They were particularly reliable in recognizing anger and surprise.

"Emotions regulate not only our mental, but also our physical states," says Lauri Nummenmaa, head of the study. They prepare people to respond properly. From an evolutionary perspective, feelings cause people to protect themselves, which ultimately serves their survival and reproduction: flee at the right time, attack, seek food, become sexually active. Feelings help evaluate a situation. Sometimes quite unconsciously.

The elusive impression that something is wrong or exactly right can ultimately also be localized in the body. Decisions are often made based on gut instinct.