Bodily Changes Mark Mood Swings: Study

The study suggests that understanding bodily sensations may help us better understand mood disorders

Published: 27th April 2014 08:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th April 2014 08:41 AM   |  A+A-

They say love makes the heart race. Other emotions cause bodily changes as well. So, can they be used to predict mood disorders? Scientists say yes.

According to a study by the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, different emotions affect different body parts. The study suggests that understanding bodily sensations and their association with human emotions may help us better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, thus providing a new bio-marker for emotional disorders.

The paper describes a series of experiments on 700 participants in Finland. Their bodily changes were studied in the neutral state, during the six basic emotions - anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise - and seven complex emotions - anxiety, love, depression, contempt, pride, shame and envy.

The body parts triggered were marked by the participants themselves. These ‘maps’ highlight the structure of the emotional  systems and brain circuits that support and process these emotions. The scientists said that different emotions are represented in a somatotopic format, in which an area of the body corresponds to a specific point of the nervous system.

Happiness Lifts the Whole Body:  All emotions seemed to trigger a sensation on the head, while anger and happiness seemed to affect the upper limbs. Decreased limb activity was a defining feature of sadness, while disgust was characterised by sensations in the digestive system and around the throat. Happiness triggered sensations all over the body.  The complex emotions appeared to trigger a smaller degree of bodily changes.

Dr R Janardhanan C Narayanaswamy, Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), said, “There is a method called bio-feedback in psychological treatment. This method involves training patients to control physiological processes such as heart rate and muscle tension. If a body map of emotions can be used in feedback techniques, it could make it more effective.”

Dr Narayanaswamy said integrating this technique with brain imaging would help map brain patterns effectively. However, there is a huge element of subjectivity here as  cultural differences impact the expression of emotions, he said.

“At this point of time, this can only be a preliminary step in understanding patterns in which emotion regulation is executed in the body,” he said.

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