Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Tor D. Wager

Second Advisor

McKell Carter

Third Advisor

June Gruber

Abstract

Colloquially, we describe emotion as something we feel, but it remains unknown whether emotional experiences and bodily sensations share representational space in the human brain. Does the neural basis of emotion include activation in cortex specialized to represent bodily sensation and action? There is growing evidence that emotions are ‘embodied,’ or grounded in simulations of some modality, such as perception and action. However, a causal link between reports of bodily sensations and discrete emotional states has not been established. This investigation aims to bridge bodily sensations of emotion with its neural construction by analyzing the representational similarity between self-reported topographical maps of emotion-induced bodily activation and neural activity in select sensorimotor and perceptual regions of interest. This exploratory investigation shows that: (1) Emotional images induce subjective sensations of bodily activation, (2) Self-reports of embodiment are correlated with physiological arousal, (3) Self-reported bodily representations of emotion are most similar to neural representations in the visual cortex, indicating that saliency, not somatization, may influence reports of embodiment. This investigation establishes a link between embodiment and physiological responding, but fails to establish a neural link between embodiment and sensorimotor representations. In summary, the relationship between emotion and the body is not purely conceptual: It is supported by physiological responses. Emotion-related bodily representations may serve to ready an organism for social or survival-related action. Knowledge of these representations may contribute to the biomarker initiative and provide neural targets for emotion regulation in the clinic.

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