For years, people have struggled to define and categorize emotions. Emotions are illusive, ever-changing and completely intangible.
To solve the mystery, scientists have begun to study emotions, and it has raised some interesting discoveries. Here are 5 interesting facts about the science behind emotions:
1. You can actually see emotions
Well, in a sense. Studies have shown that people across different cultures and other demographics “feel” emotions in the same way. A recent study asked participants to map out where on their bodies they felt emotions. For example, anger activated people’s arms and chest, whereas depression added weight people’s legs. The participants’ maps were shockingly similar. Interested in this study? The researchers have put it online for you to take part in here.
The map of participants’ emotions. There was nearly complete overlap.
2. There are really only four emotions
Building on Robert Plutchik’s famous Wheel of Emotions, recent studies have reduced the emotional spectrum to four “umbrella” emotions: happy, sad, angry/disgusted, and afraid/surprised. Similar to Plutchik’s wheel, which has all emotions building on eight base emotions, this new theory says that we only have four biological responses to stimulants. These responses trigger facial expressions, changes in pulse, and bodily reactions in only four different ways. The wide range of emotions that we know and have experienced is just an evolution of one of the basic emotions.
Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
3. Stomach butterflies exist (sort of)
We’ve all had that feeling. Nervous for a presentation or excited for a date. Our stomach flutters in a feeling that can only be described as “butterflies.” Obviously there are no butterflies flapping inside of our stomachs, but emotions like excitement or nervousness actually does trigger a physical sensation in our stomachs. The “fluttering” feeling actually is the sudden loss of blood flow in your stomach as your body races to release adrenaline. It’s a symptom of the fight-or-flight reflex that triggers increased blood flow to our lungs and muscles. Have you felt butterflies in your stomach?
Sure, this isn’t what is happening when we get butterflies in our stomach. But it sure feels like it!
4. Emotions are fast!
Very fast. Scientists have discovered that our brain processes sensory information (emotions) five times faster than cognitive information (logic). Researchers can infer that we process emotions faster because of our primal instincts; you sense fear before you realize you’re looking at a bear.
Because we process emotions first, marketing campaigns with emotional content preform 15% better than ones with rational content.
5. They really are contagious
Countless studies have shown that emotions are in fact contagious. There are a few theories on why this happens, but the consensus is always the same. Our brains often interpret other people’s emotions as our own, triggering the reactions and muscles behaviors that queue our own emotions. Oh, and positive emotions are more contagious than negative ones- so stay happy!