Map showing emotions in the body.Aalto University

A map showing where emotions, such as anger, happiness, depression and anxiety, are felt in the body has been developed by scientists in Finland.

The team from Aalto University in Esbo say being able to determine where in the body feelings are felt will lead to improved tools for the diagnosis and treatment of disorders relating to emotions.

Emotions, they say, adjust our mental and bodily states in order to cope with challenges caused by the environment. Anxiety, for example, might be felt as pain the chest.

These sensations are an important feature in mankind's emotional experiences. They help people to prepare quickly to dangers – such as fear and the fight or flight reaction. However, they also help prepare us for pleasurable social interactions.

Published in the journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America, the scientists say awareness of corresponding bodily changes may trigger conscious emotional sensations.

To create their map, the researchers found out that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily reactions.

They studied over 700 people from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan. Participants were shown pictures of human bodies and were asked to colour the bodily regions according to emotional feelings.

Happiness and pride are felt in the head and chest, while disgust is felt in the throat, the map shows. Shame is mainly felt in the cheeks and love is felt almost all over the body.

Researchers found that these sensations were consistent across Western European and East Asian cultures, suggesting emotions and their corresponding bodily sensations are based in the biological make up of humans.

Lauri Nummenmaa, assistant professor at Aalto University, said the findings have major implications for the understanding of the function of human emotions and their bodily basis, including improved diagnosis and treatment of emotional disorders.