What Do Emotions Look Like?

body colors

This study from 2013 aimed to see how emotions impact the body, so that researchers can better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. And possibly find early biomarkers for emotional disorders.

To do this, scientists used 4 different experiments to see which ones impacted emotions the most and what that would look like in the physical body.

Experiment 1 was using words to trigger emotional responses.

Experiment 2 was using stories

Experiment 3 was watching short movies

Experiment 4 had subjects look at basic facial expressions.

Emotions that were studied were: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise and a neutral emotional state.







Prior work suggests that voluntary reproduction of physiological states associated with emotions, such as breathing patterns
or facial expressions, induces subjective feelings of the corresponding emotion. Similarly, voluntary production of facial
expressions of emotions produces differential changes in physiological parameters such as heart rate, skin conductance, finger
temperature, and muscle tension, depending on the generated expression.”

What does this mean? This means that when the subjects are asked to think about events that bring the feelings of sadness, happiness, fear, excitement, (any emotion) that their brain influences the physical body to match that emotional state. Heart rate changes, skin conductance, temperature of the body and muscle tension. 

“The Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in
the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing
and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were
shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological
changes in the facial area  as well as the felt changes in the
contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.”

What you perceive in the mind physically influences the state of your physical body.

“Sensations in the upper limbs were most prominent in approach-oriented emotions, anger and happiness, whereas sensations of decreased limb
activity were a defining feature of sadness.”

Sadness, depression, has a defining feature of low feeling in the limbs. Low blood circulation.

“Sensations in the digestive system and around the throat region were mainly found
in disgust.”

“In contrast with all of the other emotions, happiness was associated with enhanced sensations all over the body”


Folks, all of these emotions were induced by watching videos, listening to words, listening to stores and looking at facial expressions. You must guard the doorway of your mind to make sure only the things you want coming in are allowed. In the same token, everything outside of you that bothers you is only touching what is already inside of you. Example: if someone called you a purple people eater, would you be offended by it? Probably not, because YOU KNOW it’s not true. But when people say things that you feel offended by or resistance to, it’s usually because on some level…you believe it. There is a wound there, maybe it was the phrasing of how it was said, maybe it was the person who said it reminded you of your father. Who knows? These little programs are deeply in our subconscious mind and they run the show. Until you begin to question yourself and your choices, seek to know yourself.

I’ve always thought that the greatest mystery to uncover is myself.



The conclusion: we understand others emotions by simulating them  in our own bodies.

The emotions observed in the body maps was also in line with the brain imaging and behavioral studies that were found in previous studies. (The emotion you feel in your brain correlates with the places in your body that the emotion is felt)

They found that emotional feelings are associated with discrete yet overlapping maps of bodily sensations, It is at the core of the emotional experience. The goal of the study was to help better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety which are accompanied by altered emotional processing.

The way we perceive events determines our emotional response to it. Our nervous system responds accordingly to how our perception of the event is. And that influences of physical body. Just amazing!



To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

candle in the dark


Source: Bodily Maps of Emotions by Lauri Nummenmaa in the journal PNAS

Author: Melissa Mullin

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