Maps of subjective feelings

Our team spanning Human Emotion Systems laboratory, University of Tampere, and Aalto University has revealed how subjective feelings are organised in the human consciousness. Subjective feelings are a central feature of human life. We constantly experience an ever-changing stream of feelings that is only abolished during sleep, brain damage, and deep unconsciousness. It is however most puzzling how we organise our inner mental lives. Our new research shows how such subjective feelings are organised into five groups: positive emotions, negative emotions, cognitive operations, homeostatic functions, and sensations of illness. All these feelings are coupled with strong bodily feelings. This page provides a lay summary and additional information on the study originally published in Proceedings of The National Academy of the United States of America. You may read the full paper here.

Data acquisition is still on-going for future related projects. You can participate in the experiment via this link

How the study was done?

The study was conducted as an Internet-based survey, whose results were used to generated maps of 100 common feelings covering, for example, emotions, cognition, homeostatic processes, and illnesses. Over 1000 adults took part in the experiments. They evaluated how strongly they experience different feelings in the mind and the body, and how pleasant and controllable each feeling was. Next, the participants were shown with the full list of 100 feelings, and were asked to arrange them into a grid so that similar feelings would be close and different feelings away from each other. Finally, participants were shown pictures of blank human bodies, and asked, for each feeling, to colour the regions where they experience changes during each feeling.

Mapping the feeling space. You may download a larger version of the image by clicking here.

Accesing the experimental code and data

The program code used for acquiring the data can be  this link. The complete dataset acquired in the study can be downloaded here.

Map of feelings

Based on the similarity ratings we generated a map of human feelings. In this map, the feelings that are experienced as similar to each other are also close to each other, whereas those that feel dissimilar are distant. The feelings form five discrete groups (clusters): positive emotions, negative emotions, cognition, homeostatic states, and illnesses. This grouping is likely based on the way the brain parses and combines the signals coming from the external environment and the body.

Map of human feelings. You can zoom the image by hovering the pointer over it. A high-resolution version is available for download here.

Bodily basis of feelings

All feelings were associated with a unique bodily “fingerprint”. These were obtained by asking subjects to colour on blank human body figures the regions where they experienced each feeling. The resulting maps were then averaged across participants for each feeling. The resulting bodily maps are remarkably distinct across feelings, except for those associated with higher mental functions such as thinking and reasoning. Strong bodily signatures for feelings suggests that bodily processes are an important determinant of subjective feelings in general.

Bodily basis of feelings. You can zoom the image by hovering the pointer over it. A high-resolution version is available for download here.

A video version of the results is available in multiple languages:

Feelings maps video (English version)

Feelings maps video (Finnish version)

Feelings maps video (Japanese version)

Feelings maps video (Spanish version, coming soon)

Basic dimensions of feelings

The subjects also evaluated basic properties of all the feeling states: how saliently they are felt in the mind and the body, how pleasant and controllable they are, and how much time has passed since they last experienced each feeling. The table below shows the average ratings obtained in the study. The feelings are arranged based on their pleasantness, but you can rearrange the list by clicking on the column headers.

FeelingGroupMindBodyPleasureControlLapse
SadnessNegative emotion864953183258323
AngerNegative emotion866926165588426
HappinessPositive emotion786921955672159
FearNegative emotion875922108466363
SurpriseBetween596831571276259
DisgustNegative emotion747822122434383
PridePositive emotion534847723605312
GratefulnessPositive emotion699921898727155
Longing forBetween762912430493257
DespiseNegative emotion640899152554551
DespairNegative emotion721934129466523
ShameNegative emotion787945112505480
GuiltNegative emotion74191782648366
DisappointmentNegative emotion648882145460315
PleasurePositive emotion810912909701145
NervousnessNegative emotion897886243477240
WinningPositive emotion718873861654360
LosingNegative emotion596773273567414
SucceedingPositive emotion725906924718238
FailingNegative emotion756907119604341
WantingPositive emotion702877639650172
CravingPositive emotion728886664612295
WaitingBetween530784426496176
InhibitingBetween656836459812230
Social longingBetween824935309539323
SpeakingHomeostatic63075564183751
LaughingPositive emotion894925933741139
LovePositive emotion860946932594253
Social exclusionNegative emotion627918115527375
TogethernessPositive emotion670889898644244
LonelinessNegative emotion599888232662413
OstracismNegative emotion754925141310536
ClosenessPositive emotion843909907734226
HostilityNegative emotion758901127661382
SympathyPositive emotion669887687662188
AnxietyNegative emotion85793982476286
PanicNegative emotion90392977422631
StressNegative emotion845913184553184
DepressionNegative emotion80693467417494
ManiaBetween710788458414791
EatingHomeostatic84178580884965
DrinkingHomeostatic76961971682193
HungerHomeostatic858826252821137
SatiationHomeostatic868735743813137
ThirstHomeostatic849702212840194
SweatingBetween832479371520184
UrinatingBetween77648863667259
DefecationBetween860427640590117
TirednessNegative emotion888921293602186
VitalityBetween843911873700142
ExhaustionNegative emotion899898205545273
BreathingHomeostatic66634269750810
HeartbeatBetween729408531246107
DrunkennessIllness865862520888522
Sexual arousalPositive emotion886893856713228
OrgasmPositive emotion940880948835244
ShiveringIllness885664210347566
HangoverIllness891846214850617
HeartburnIllness803482192549598
SuffocationBetween946875115312847
RelaxationPositive emotion873895945755210
SleepingBetween740667860715136
ThinkingCognition36687764368520
RememberingCognition45981766164690
AttendingCognition58980767076499
ForgettingBetween326668291504228
ReadingCognition38679275982562
ImaginingCognition486881735878139
DaydreamingCognition587877814753211
InferringCognition388800666805154
ReasoningCognition423851660767138
EstimatingCognition418767550681268
Being consciousCognition606833716709154
MemorizingCognition338796477742141
RecognitionCognition545794703480235
RecollectionCognition404788572700188
Having fluIllness882726152322395
Having feverIllness889681159260640
Having stomach fluIllness93763845226729
Having coldIllness869670149282418
Having headacheIllness928669187481326
Feeling nauseousIllness932802138348383
Having toothacheIllness899728104330746
CoughingIllness815442240317298
SneezingIllness853407527211260
AchingIllness910737152368236
Being dazzledBetween715531415592313
SeeingHomeostatic57165776863849
HearingHomeostatic63773563049644
Feeling touchPositive emotion914852811635143
SmellingHomeostatic65868058835287
TastingHomeostatic77480473059475
ItchingIllness882634183426271
NumbnessBetween810413222527324
Feeling painIllness934802108394273
HotnessBetween920657389511319
ColdnessBetween899642215682310
DizzinessIllness884674194324426
MovementBetween906719754862124
AccelerationBetween840766406586320