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The Experience of Emotion in the Body


Explanations > Emotions > The Experience of Emotion in the Body


How do you know you are happy, sad or feeling any other emotion? A particular way we know is how we feel, physically, within the body. So what are those feelings and where do we experience them?

Nummenmaa et al (2012) produced an innovative 'heat map', showing where emotions are experienced and the intensity of the feeling. This was done by offering subjects (from both Europe and Asia) emotional words, stories, movies and facial expressions and then asking them to identify the emotion and bodily sensations they experienced. This included feelings of both 'heat' and of 'cold'. In the table below, the first eight emotions are considered basic, while the second eight are non-basic.


Emotion Location and intensity
Anger Fairly evenly across upper torso, head and arms. Hottest in heart, hands, face. A little sensation in lower legs.
Fear Warm across upper torso with some in lower torso. A little in arms and less in legs. Some in head, but not lower face.
Disgust Lightly warm upper body, head and hands. Hottest in lower face and lower abdomen.
Happiness Warm all over body. Hottest in heart and head and some down the arms.
Sadness Cold arms and legs, especially lower legs. A little heat in heart, neck and eyes.
Surprise Slightly cool legs. Warm chest and head. Warmest around eyes.
Neutral Just a little coolness around armpits.
Anxiety Hot torso with hottest around heart. Some warmth in head. Some coolness in legs.
Love Hot upper body, especially around heart, face and groin. Warm arms with a little warmth running down legs.
Depression Cold legs and arms, with some coolness in head and lower abdomen.
Contempt Heat only in central upper torso, hot only in face. Some coolness around groin.
Pride Hot upper body with most heat around whole upper torso and face. Some warmth in arms
Shame Some warmth through torso. Warm head and hot cheeks. Coolness in arms and legs.
Envy Some warmth in upper torso. Greatest warmth in head. A little coolness in legs.

So what?

Watch people. How they experience emotions will show in their body language.

See also

Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Hari, R. and Hietanen, J. (2012). Bodily maps of emotions, PNAS, 111, 2, 646-651

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