Body Atlas Reveals Where We Feel Happiness and Shame

By Gemma Tarlach | December 30, 2013 2:00 pm
Red, yellow and orange show activated regions while blue and purple areas are deactivated in these maps of bodily sensations associated with specific emotions. Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.

Yellow shows regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feeling in these composite images. Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen.

Chests puffing up with pride — and happiness felt head to toe — are sensations as real as they are universal. And now we can make an atlas of them.

Researchers have long known that emotions are connected to a range of physiological changes, from nervous job candidates’ sweaty palms to the racing pulse that results from hearing a strange noise at night. But new research reveals that emotional states are universally associated with certain bodily sensations, regardless of individuals’ culture or language.

Once More With Feeling

More than 700 participants in Finland, Sweden and Taiwan participated in experiments aimed at mapping their bodily sensations in connection with specific emotions. Participants viewed emotion-laden words, videos, facial expressions and stories. They then self-reported areas of their bodies that felt different than before they’d viewed the material. By coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes — one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation — participants were able to provide researchers with a broad base of data showing both positive and negative bodily responses to different emotions.

Researchers found statistically discrete areas for each emotion tested, such as happiness, contempt and love, that were consistent regardless of respondents’ nationality. Afterward, researchers applied controls to reduce the risk that participants may have been biased by sensation-specific phrases common to many languages (such as the English “cold feet” as a metaphor for fear, reluctance or hesitation). The results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Although each emotion produced a specific map of bodily sensation, researchers did identify some areas of overlap. Basic emotions, such as anger and fear, caused an increase in sensation in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to increases in pulse and respiration rate. Happiness was the only emotion tested that increased sensation all over the body.

The findings enhance researchers’ understanding of how we process emotions. Despite differences in culture and language, it appears our physical experience of feelings is remarkably consistent across different populations. The researchers believe that further development of these bodily sensation maps may one day result in a new way of identifying and treating emotional disorders.

Read more news stories about the science of emotion here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: emotions
  • Julie Jewl

    I like happiness and love- so full of good energy

    • Gary Carkeek

      Your hair colour is gorgeous, a slightly bluish green. Very pure, hope that doesn’t sound creepy or trite

      • scott

        it does

        • Gary Carkeek

          fair enough lol. Would still love to see a complete pic 😉

          • trent

            i dont think the pic is real :/

      • Kieron Seymour-Howell

        Through simple photo data analysis you can find out the poster, or at least accounts where that image has been used.

        It is used all the time to ferret out fake accounts and link people with one another. Another method is word pattern use or other factors. All this is well known to the forensic community or various government agencies. Once you have the accounts you can generate a fairly accurate personality profile.

        • Gary Carkeek

          Thanks for the pointer – I will research and try and find the original image; ‘Julie’ seems to have cropped it for an effect that suits the type of comments she makes. Nice look

          • Kieron Seymour-Howell

            Here is a hint. She apparently likes to travel, is familiar with the country of Brazil, and Starbucks coffee. It was fairly easy to locate a facebook account and other posts just by searching the image online.

            What people do not realize, it that the Internet is not a private place. The tools and means for locating and discovering what and how people think, are constantly evolving.

          • Gary Carkeek

            Easy to research enough to find too -just used Google image search and dropped the photo – she from San Francisco :-)
            Never knew that was there 😉

          • Kieron Seymour-Howell

            Yes. Now you have opened a new door to thinking. Once you start searching for new ways to do something, the world seems a more interesting place.

            Incidentally, that type of technology would probably have been considered exclusively military only about ten years ago. And even yet more powerful and capable algorithms are being made available for us from month to month. The technology behind Google Glass is a good example of this, as is the image and pattern recognition routines contained in driver-less cars. We have now computers that are being programmed with real-time emotional assessment and personality profiling capabilities.

      • john

        I highly doubt that is them.

        • Gary Carkeek

          We are our avatars, John

          • I Am The BATMAN

            I am Batman.

  • Vinícius Nakamura

    shame is spider man

    • Frank

      From those nocturnal wrist emissions.

    • Carlos Eduardo Borges

      And happiness is Iron Man

      • luke

        Happiness is Johnny, flame on!

    • mjnk

      iceman also known as depress-man

      • Alex Lieb

        And Anger is Aquaman. Nobody likes Anger.

  • lisaframe

    Happiness is rad!!!!
    Depression looks exactly how it feels. empty :(
    Anger, wow.. look at the energy in the fists! Bar fights, I understand now. Kinda.
    Envy – all in your head.

    this is really cool!

    • Jillian


  • World Class Seminars

    Wow that’s interesting! Happiness is felt in the whole body! :)

  • Stonewall (Stoney) Speer

    Imagining a range of application – programming more human-like robots; communicating concepts to autistic children; and as writer’s aide for more universal descriptive writing.

  • ariana

    i did this, with my computers thermo picture thingy & i came up mostly blue, except the upper body was half red/yellow on one side? so am i filled with anxiety and love?

    • Darryl Reddy

      Did you read the article at all? this was not done by a machine, they asked people to color how they felt on charts, this was basically something a grade 4 class could have done, not based on anything more then what people all ready perceive as where they feel emotion

  • Justin

    Typical fake internet crap for the mindless.

    • Oohrah

      and that explains why YOU are reading it lol

      • John Evans

        What? If this was claiming to an artist’s impression of those emotions, it’d be fine. But it’s claiming to be an actual thermal photograph of real people, which if it’s backed up by the facts is fascinating, and if it isn’t, isn’t.

        • Alicia Dane

          yes, exactly. It’s pretending to be science. Good subject, interesting, like to see real data collected, but this above is bunk, John.

          • Neil Creamer

            There are no ‘real data’ that reflect a subjective experience just data that correspond to it. That’s why the study reported what the respondents felt. There is plenty of literature on the physiology associated with emotion but that wasn’t the aim here.

        • Thetruthhurts

          It claims that the map is depicting where subjects reported they felt positive or negative sensations in different areas, not necessarily temperature. Nothing in this article says “thermal photograph.”

        • Lielin

          It is not thermal photograph. If you bothered reading the study it says : ”
          In five experiments, participants (n
          = 701) were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words,
          stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were
          asked to color the bodily regions whose
          activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus.”

  • Rick

    It looks like happiness is the best emotion.

  • Gregory Lyons

    That last sentence is sinister.

    • Kieron Seymour-Howell

      I have a feeling, that as computer and data processing develops, we will see the emergence of AI systems that can accurately predict and identify emotions and behavioural patterns in people more accurately than they can within themselves.

      Already available years ago, is a forensic tool that can can accuratly identify the emotional state of human speech, and it does not have to know the language or any other data about the target.

      • Gregory Lyons

        Does this “forensic tool” have a name, Kieron Seymour-Howell?

        • Kieron Seymour-Howell

          There are a few already in use and the research has been ongoing for about ten years. Hit the search engines with the terms “vocal dissonance markers” and “automated vocal emotion analysis”

  • Sabah Sheesh Ahmed

    What happens with empathy?

    • john

      I’d assume it’d be the same as the emotion you are empathizing with?

  • Maurizio Ceccato

    Happiness = Torchman (Fantastic Four)

  • Phil Hartman

    I’d be interested to know how they induced these emotions with certitude.

    • Bipolar Healing

      Yes, for example Depression is usually defined as something that lasts over a long period of time.

      • john

        Just bring in people whom al ready have depression?

        • Phil Hartman

          A lot of people say they are depressed but it turns up to be a plea for attention or that time of the month.

          • otisleojazz3

            Something you’ve never experienced it sounds. Hope any significant people in your life don’t expect much understanding from you.

          • Phil Hartman

            Personal attacks are pretty pointless in this situation right? I mean you don’t know anything about me so attacking me rather than my argument won’t win you much support.

          • Richard Head

            People who are depressed might plea for help, but depression is something much darker. Maybe you’ve never experienced it, if not you are fortunate indeed.

          • Phil Hartman

            Whether or not I have experienced depression is irrelevant to a debate.

          • Richard Head

            lol, how could it be irrelevant? Are you not pretending to dispense knowledge on an internal-subjective experience? But… let’s say you’ve never experienced it. I would suggest that places you somewhere between ignorant and presumptuous. Don’t you think?

          • Phil Hartman

            So you nothing about the moon, since you’ve never been there? You know nothing about Mongolia, or the Arctic, or any state you’ve never been to? You can’t comprehend physics because you’ve never actually seen an electron? You could never possibly study women because you are male?This is a study that claims they can measure depression, not feel it subjectively. It’s perfectly reasonable to question their methodology and completely within my field of expertise. I would counter that people who go around making personal attacks on internet comment boards are the ones who could probably use some more education.

          • Richard Head

            The moon, or any of those other things you listed, are not analogous to a ‘subjective experience,’ i.e. depression. You should learn the difference before trying to engage in a ‘debate.’

          • Lauren Lagergren

            What you’re talking about concerning “that time of the month” is the “blues”. There’s a huge difference between the blues and depression. Real depression is debilitating.

  • Raja

    Awesome Report. How about Excited ?

  • Mark Blackwell

    Well, Discover considers crap shows like Gold Rush and Alaska Frontier “entertainment.”

    So……so much for Discover being an authority on anything scientific.

    • Susan Decker

      This “study” is entirely subjective and it is doubtful that this “coloring in” would be considered scientific by a serious person. Interesting, but that is as far as it goes. Meh.

    • Lisa Raffensperger

      Mark I think you mean Discovery Channel, with which Discover Magazine is in no way affiliated.

    • Kieron Seymour-Howell

      No, actually the people who tune in, consider that. Discover is making money, not about caring what people think. They will put on whatever people will sit to watch, and then stick commercials in there.

    • Oohrah

      Some of you seem to think that “science” is about nothing but numbers and data. Well, people have emotions, too, and they are worth exploring. Is it just me or does it seem like only the MEN object to this story?

  • Barry Kort

    How about Perplexed?

  • Some Guy

    crotch area sensations determine bad or good emotions.

  • Ron Jam

    The participants “colored in . . . two silhouettes?” How does this garbage get published?

    • Darryl Reddy

      I too was amazed when i read it was based on a coloring contest LOL

    • Martin Sykes

      Because it has scientific credibility, numb nuts

    • Oohrah

      Do you think the Rorschach test is garbage too?

      • Ron Jam

        In general, qualitative psychological tests aren’t considered to be as reliable as quantitative tests. I’m not an expert on the Roorschach test in particular, but I am aware of studies indicating that it is no better than self assessment in detecting personality traits. For example, Lindgren T, Carlsson AM, Lundbäck E – Scand J Psychol – Oct 2007; 48(5); 399-408

        • Wayne Smallman

          I was expecting experimental data, such as sensors to measure body temperature and then compare actual with the self-reporting.

    • Xiaoyi Cao

      “Contributed by Riitta Hari”, that’s how. PNAS allows NAS members to “contribute” up to four manuscripts per year with much less stringent peer-review requirements (said NAS member can find reviewers by himself/herself).

  • Farmer_General

    Very interesting, but the pessimist in me believes this information will be assimilated into other methods that are used to control and direct people. It may also be used to create emotional disorders. Do you think the people running this world will use this information to heal people or keep the broken power structure in place?

    • Darryl Reddy

      LOL, what information is it they will use? did you read the article at all? The info presented here is that adults can color, thats it lol, this was not based on anything scientific at all

      • Farmer_General

        Next time you are walking down the street or in the air port you will get thrown in the back of a cruiser or interrogation room because the hand held scanner displayed that you were angry or in contempt. Sorry, but that doesn’t seem funny to me.

      • Kieron Seymour-Howell

        Every tool, is based upon another precept, invention, or idea. Colouring today, forced confinement tomorrow because you scowled at a police officer while walking past a traffic camera.

        You should do a little reading into the capabilities of data forensic analysis. Once we have capable AI systems that can access the vast amounts of data required for accurate profiling, then you may sing a different tune. So, laugh while you can, physics and psychology will always have the last laugh. 😛

  • Irwin Busk

    Total BUNK. This was about a coloring book, not science. Try mapping increased blood flow, or actual surface temperature, maybe perspiration.

    • Kieron Seymour-Howell

      It shows valuable data in psychology. The entire world that you believe exists, is mostly in your mind. So, this has a lot of value for psychology.

      Actually, it is interesting to note, that on a quantum level, nothing exists at all really, everything is merely standing patterns of energy. And that also has an interesting response when you hit people with it. From nothing you came, and to nothing you shall return.

      NOTE: Everything I so, is actually just a part of a social experiment so I can learn about how and why people think how they do, even this note.

    • Oohrah

      Sounds to me like someone who is fearful of dealing with emotions.

    • Neil Creamer

      There’s plenty of data on that but the physiological correlates of a subjective experience are not the experience itself. If they were the brain scans of people eating nice food would be a lot more tasty than they are.

      The type of science you are talking about is unsuited to an examination of experience which is by its very nature idiosyncratic.

  • Gildmirth

    Where’s doubt?

  • Angel Ham

    So.. Shame turns you into Spider-man?

  • Porst

    Depression is totally accurate. It feels exactly like a black void inside you.

  • littlejudy

    For those wondering how this study might be useful, in psychotherapy it could be helpful as a simple tool for working with patients who have difficulty identifying and expressing their emotions. For those patients who can only say they simply feel “good” or “bad” one might be able to show them these images so they can link how they feel physically to putting a name to their feeling state.

    • Roma Rajab

      I agree. This is exactly what I am doing at this website and what I visited it for. I do have difficulty naming what exactly do I feel

  • Darryl Reddy

    LOL this is non sense, did any of you read how the study was done? All this study did was show what the cultural norms are to express emotion, nothing more. They used no machines or anything in this test, they asked peope to color where they felt feelings on a chart…This is something a grade 4 class could have shown you just as easy…

    • Melinda Lange

      You keep asking if anyone read how the study was done. I ask you the same question. Did you read the study (it was linked to in this article), not just the abstract? Your statement that “they used no machines or anything in this test…” is false. (And there were multiple experiments.) I suggest that you read the full text of the study article.

  • Katie Lee

    I find this extremely interesting and insightful!
    To those of you who judge, just remember All new studies and theories are questioned in the beginning. But the world is round, the sun does Not revolve around the earth, and physical reactions to mental emotions are Real…

    • scott

      Only they didnt try to prove the world is round by drawing a map with a crayon… The issue our judgy friends are pointing out is the method used for the research not the topic of the research.

      • Kieron Seymour-Howell

        Actually, most of what you have been fed as science and historical fact in school, has just about as much merit. Ask yourself, what and why do you eat what you do, wear what you wear, or vote for whom you vote for. Most likely you have not personally done any scientific studies, you just accept what you have been fed through equally ignorant peers and the media. Social pop-culture and many aspects of modern society is about farming you for money, not about caring if you really make an educated choice or not. You are a commodity, a resource, not a person with moral influence.

        • scott

          Your point is invalid and ridiculous like most conspiracy theorists. First, neither science nor historical fact have any effect on what I eat, what I wear or pretty much any other basic function of my life. Second, the stuff we learn or as you would call it, fed, comes from educated individuals not some out to lunch conspiracy buff like yourself. You do have a point about farming people for money, and ill give you that one. But its simply part of a capitalist culture. I have no problem with people making money off me because , I in turn make money of others. We all got to make a buck. Its called economics, something you may have learned if you went to school instead of hiding from the big bad capitalist society.

          • Kieron Seymour-Howell

            Sorry, I am not talking about some conspiracy. That is merely basic human nature; to prey off one another, crawling over the social and economic corpses of your peers while you try to scrabble just a little higher, and for what? I guess it is called the human ‘race’ for a reason. The ironic thing? There is no finish line … lol

          • Lhamo55

            If you think scientific or historical fact have no bearing on how you conduct your life, you may want to consider that a bit more. Do you take supplements or medication? What informs how you dress in the winter vs summer? What foods do you eat regularly and why? Even if you consume totally without making any choices for yourself, what you consume is a result of a process, right?

          • Neil Creamer

            “neither science nor historical fact have any effect on what I eat”

            Are you seriously that unaware of your social conditioning, your place in history or the paradigms of the culture you inhabit? I’m pretty sure you could only make such a claim because you have never traveled or studied history or, if you did, that you gained no insight from it.

  • heidifogle

    Given how closely surprise mimics some of the other negative emotions, no wonder I dislike surprises

  • Erika Awakening

    Feelings are a universal language that we can use to heal the planet if we know how …

  • Cathy M

    while this is totally anecdotal, it still has a lot of accuracy, at least for me. Depression is dead on for example. If nothing else, this could be an impetus for more scientific studies or to open discussions for those with difficulty recognizing and/or dealing with emotions.

  • jmrowland

    Ever had the blues?

  • Kieron Seymour-Howell

    It would love to see a followup study done with PET and or FMRi equipment to add to this finding. All of this will go into the global melting pot of how to profile and track who and what humans are doing so that we can better exploit them and farm them for profit. *smiles*

  • Gary

    It does sound an awfully lot like marketing research methods to me. No doubt the results will be used in marketing in some way.

  • Oohrah

    Very interesting. Seems to back up what has already been expressed in the arts and literature for centuries.

  • Valentino Giacomin

    Now I can understand why our students feel happy after “light meditation”. It is a simple exercise: We start filling of light (of love) our heart, then all our body and mind. When our body and mind have become light, then we pour out this loving light to transform into light our classmates, our school, our neighbors, our village, our city, our Nation, our Continent, our Earth, our planets, solar system… and all the Universe. Just try this miraculous meditation and you will be astonished by the immediate results. We are happy to discover that there are scientific evidences and meaning about what we are doing with our students since many years…

  • Anne Milligan

    The whole-body happiness is beautiful I think. It corresponds to emotional freedom, when blockages are released and cleared. Good stuff here. I love it!!!

  • Sherrie Noble

    In the days of thermal images and scanning self-reporting and genetically non-diverse populations make this study essentially meaningless. I would like to see it done far better.

  • Taïcyr Abbes

    Depression looks like what it feels : Death inside, cold and darkness

  • Alicia Dane

    This test was far too subjective to draw conclusions like the above graphic, and I have a real problem with the computer generated images in a form that is usually reserved for actual thermography. This type of experiment needs to be quantified measurably. RE-DO!!

  • Dbakeca Italia


  • Boysen Hodgson

    The ManKind Project (.org) has been helping men learn to identify and work with emotions based on the sensations in their bodies for nearly 3 decades. It’s cool to see research done that can help with emotional literacy and intelligence.

  • Coolcat

    I like to make up colour charts too

  • Rex Jantze

    I believe what this shows is that we have more receptivity–or receptor-sites on the cells–in those regions receiving the neurochemical signal to emote, or specifically filter the incoming external information to any learned or rehearsed emotional bias. The look of disgust is the same, according to the late, great Dr Candace Pert, to an Australian bushman as it is to a Manhatten stock trader (though the cultural triggers will be different). Because emotions are conserved among mammals, we would probably find the similar regions light up in horse or a monkey or a dolphin.

  • Sara

    Observing and descrbing emotions is an important part of healthy psychology. When people learn to recognize their emotions their reactions may be healthier. We need more research in this important area of our lives. Mindfulness helps.

  • EatLiveLifeblog

    Happiness is the best of course!!

  • ValPas

    Notice how similar pride and anger are!

  • sean

    Sadness is having blue balls

  • Sash Mosphere

    Neutral man: “might as well be dead”

  • Sushant Awasthi

    It’s shown how it is for Love, I am interested to see how it would look like for ‘Lust’….

  • Guest


  • Gilo

    They forgot LUST… my imagination is killing me!

  • Lucy O’Dell

    can somebody tell TSA. It would make randome airport screening selection more productive. :)

  • Koji

    now we can say that love is related to sex !

  • Reaugustinmft

    Anyone else notice that we apparently feel contempt in our crotches? O.o

  • Guest

    Were we feel orgasm is magically not displayed. Go figure! o.0

  • SexyCRT

    Where we feel orgasm is mysteriously not present. Go figure! o.0

  • Saoirse

    That cannot be true, when people are startled or scared, their whole body should light up. When we are scared or startled, we end up in flight and/or attack mode which jolts adrenaline into our body.

  • tomthebomb024

    spider man, spider man, shameful shameful spider man

    • BombTheTom026

      Shameful troll you are.

  • Deana Sacks

    The best way to wipe out sadness or anxiety seems to be to get into nature. Surfing, skiing, hiking, or just standing by the ocean or a lake, or in a forest or prairie – it’s amazing how fast you can feel great when you get away from the city.

  • creaker

    Funny they left out lust – love appears to be from your head to … below (the only one that really lights up below, actually). I wonder if lust would have been just below :-)

  • ejhaskins

    I don’t believe any of this! Fear is felt in the legs and pelvic region for a start!

  • Jenna James

    So does reverse stimulation work? ‘Cause rubbing my feet makes me happy!

  • Dbakeca Italia


  • shaunkahler

    like if ya boy bill bye brought u here

  • E-Rix Roleam

    Very good

  • Joey

    I thought shame looked like an alien

  • Nasim Khalid



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