It’s all in the _____ (Embodiment)

Embodiment, or the physical manifestation of a felt emotion, is a natural part of emotional expression. In fact, each emotion shares a physiologically specific function with the rest of the body.

When an emotion is appraised and felt, according to the Schachter-Singer theory of emotion, the emotion is a result of an external stimulus, as seen from the Inside Out clip. Each of Riley’s emotions react according to their own priorities, which controls Riley’s physical behavior outside of her head. For example, when Sadness was in control or touches a core memory, Riley’s face turns downwards, and she feels a sense of heaviness in her chest. Or when she was controlled by Anger, her eyebrows furrowed, and the blood circulating through her veins prepared her for aggression. That’s embodiment.

Facial Embodiment

As you can see above, emotional arousal has its own physiological specificity in the face. Much time was needed for Ekman and his colleagues to create the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). This is a comprehensive guidebook of embodied facial expressions, listing the six basic emotions, as well as a great amount more.

To add to our bodily understanding of emotion, researchers compiled an enormous list of thousands of images. The International Affective Picture System (IAPS) measures a range of emotions by showing participants varying images. They can have a particular valence (having negative, positive, or neutral emotional tones), dominance (very impactful to not impactful), and arousal (higher emotion to lower emotion).

Corporeal Embodiment

Below, the results from the study by Nummenemaa, et al (2013) show how the body reacted when participants self-reported their emotions. The yellow stands for higher arousal and activity, and the blue stands for lower arousal and activity.

Thus, “it’s all in the ____” (head, legs, arms and throat, eye dilation) when your emotions display themselves physiologically. Try it for yourself: imagine yourself in the following situations…

-Someone offends you with a gender slur that was uncalled for;

-A random number keeps trying to call your cell phone, leaving strange messages in your voice mailbox;

-You walk into your home, notice a stain on your shoes, and realize it’s a dog’s waste from the yard;

-You receive an A on your following project you spent dozens of hours working on;

-You hear news that your great uncle is ill and was taken to the hospital;

-You walk into your dorm room to find someone from your hall eating Doritos on your bed.

While imagining each situation, did you notice bodily sensations similar to each colored emotional state? If you did, know you may know where your emotions come from! If you catch yourself feeling an overwhelming, burning power in your torso and arms, maybe you should explore if something is angering you. Or, if you notice someone, catch yourself smiling, and want every inch between your head and toes to dance, perhaps you’re elated with happiness–or even in love.  😉

Let your actions today reflect love, forgiveness, and peace as you regulate your bodily emotions.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

~James 3:13


Application: Embodiment Training

Embodiment is a useful tool, not only in psychology, but also in the business world and everyday life. If you are able to read your own emotions, as Paul Ekman explains in the video below, then the power of emotional intelligence you possess will assist you. You can be more persuasive, happier, and understand the needs and desires of other people by training your brain to see emotional expression.


Here’s another fun fact: microexpressions determined by the FACS have been used to convict criminals in the court of law. Without polygraphs, you can train your eye to spot liars, combining the FACS with research. FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY, BABY!

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