Espoo, Finland (CBS ATLANTA) — Across the globe, vastly different cultures, and language barriers – humans feel nearly the exact same physical responses to emotion.

A new study from the Finnish Aalto University finds that humans’ physical reactions to cope with changing environments and mental adjustments are felt in a very similar physical way throughout the world. The study shows that the most common emotions elicit very similar physical responses, such as the feeling of anxiety creating a pain in the chest or the clenched-fist reaction to anger.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the report looked for reaction consistencies between hundreds of participants from different parts of the globe. The five different experiments linked different emotions ranging from the simple (anger, happiness) to the more complex (shame, envy, depression). The researchers linked seven different emotions with the same somato-sensory experiences, including their facial expressions and verbalized responses of how they were feeling.

The researchers looked at the topographically different sensations for different emotions with over 700 people from Western Europe and East Asia.

The study revealed bodily sensations associated with different emotions collected from self-report: depression is represented in an image of a cooling blue felt in the legs and arms, with darkness shown in the chest. Pride showed a glowing orange and red burst felt in the head, chest and shoulders. Contempt showed a bright pang of red and orange in the head, and darkness in the rest of the body.

The authors of the study, led by Lauri Nummenmaa of Aalto University’s School of Science, constructed the maps of “emotional feelings associated with discrete, yet overlapping bodily sensations, which could be at the core of the emotional experience.”

People’s physical feelings from emotional changes – elicited by reading short stories, emotionally suggestive words or viewing various films – were often felt in the body in very similar ways.

The researchers write that they hope to better understand how mood disorders such as anxiety or depression alter humans’ emotional processes, providing a “biomarker” for emotional disorder treatment and diagnosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines mental illness as “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.”

The CDC lists depression as the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26 percent of the U.S. adult population. Estimates predict that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, behind ischemic heart disease.


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