Emotion and Touch are Deeply Linked

Excerpt from Fresh Air conversation (2/3/15) with David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:

When your feelings are hurt, the emotional pain center of your brain–the posterior insula–is very strongly activated. And the physical pain center–the somatosensory cortex–is activated just a whisper. 

But I think what this shows is that the phrase "you hurt my feelings" is not merely a metaphor. It's literally true. And I think it points up a very interesting thing in our language.

Why are feelings called feelings? Why are our tender emotions made analogous with our touch sense? Why is it that when someone is emotionally clumsy, we call them tactless? Literally: they lack touch. 

We have this strong idea, in the culture and in the language, that emotion and touch are deeply linked, and I think the neuroanatomy bears this out.

Listen to the entire conversation...


Linden, D. J. (2015). Touch: The science of hand, heart, and mind. New York: Viking. (publisherlibrary)