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Perceiving Emotion Expressed by a Whole Body

In their book Quicksilver (2010), Michael O’Brien and Larry Shook reference a 2004 National Academy of Sciences paper entitled “Fear fosters flight: A mechanism for fear contagion when perceiving emotion expressed by a whole body“.  This paper is about kinesthetic awareness or body movements that precede emotional states, specifically how we recognize happiness and fear as others telegraph their emotional states.  Until this study, researchers focused mainly on processes associated with facial expressions; this study suggest that bodily movements are just as important for understanding emotional behavior.  One can only think of the archetypal poker player eyeing his opponent for signs of excitement or stress.  Just what is the player noticing that gives him an edge?

As with many research studies, the actual details are technical and sometimes overly complicated however I would suggest the time necessary to work your way through the work is well worth it.  O’Brien & Shook also make an interesting point concerning the permeations possible within our own neural networks:

This is where our emerging knowledge of the brain approaches the mystical.  When we consider that each of the neocortex’s hundred billion neurons has as many as twenty thousand connections to other brain cells, and that those cells connect with millions of other body cells, and that, as neuroscientists  helpfully point out, the potential permutations of these connections exceed the number of molecules in the known universe, we are only beginning to grasp the reality of our circumstances. (p. 83)

Exceed the number of molecules in the known universe?  That sounds like a lot if you ask me.  That is why when I read articles like “Mice Make Their Own Morphine” I am not surprised.

Rather, it makes it silly to assume that we know what is possible in any endeavor.