Finnish researchers induced different emotions in 701 participants from Western Europe and East Asia and then asked them to color the portions of body map of where they felt increasing or decreasing activity during the particular emotion. Despite the cultural differences, they found remarkable similarities in how people responded.
Here are the general results for six basic emotions. The section of the body mentioned is where people FEEL the emotion most. (Read the study for more subtle distinctions)
Anger – felt in head, chest, arms and hands. Lower body feels neutral
Fear – felt mostly in the center of the chest. Arms and legs feel neutral
Disgust – felt in the mouth and throat area
Happiness – felt in the head and center of the chest (but the whole body feels pretty good)
Sadness – nothing feels intense and limbs feel low response
Surprise – nothing feels as high as anger, fear or happiness but some feeling in chest and head
The authors explain, “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.”
It is fascinating that happiness is the one emotion that fills the whole body including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig.
The study’s lead author, Lauri Nummenmaa, explained, “Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities […] Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness.”
source: Nummenmaa et al 2013.