Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Explore the “continents” and “states” of universal feelings with this new geography-inspired interactive.
Two years ago, the famed psychologist and emotions expert Paul Ekman sent a survey to nearly 250 researchers active in his discipline. The idea was to see what the fast-growing field actually agreed upon in interpreting the scientific evidence on the nature of emotion. The survey showed that at least one notion is solid: Universal emotions exist. Eighty-eight percent of the scientists who responded agreed that, no matter who you are, or where you were raised, you are bound to share certain feelings with the rest of mankind.
That finding, along with the five emotions that scientists rated as the most universal—anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment—are the basis of the Atlas of Emotions, a new interactive tool that Ekman developed with his daughter Eke Ekman, also an emotions researcher, and the San Francisco data-visualization firm Stamen Design.
The Atlas renders each of those five emotions into a series of abstract landscapes, which the reader can use to gain greater insight into the relationships between feelings, triggers, and their own behaviors. As Stamen puts it in a statement:
Each “continent” of the 5 primary emotions contains “states” that are mapped like mountain ranges, with peaks along a scale of intensity. From these states follow likely actions, which can be constructive or destructive.
The site’s graphics show colorful emotional continents expanding and contracting in a white sea. Knowledge of their cartography can enable an emotional navigator to avoid rocky shoals and reach a state of calm.
Sound enlightening? That’s because the project was actually initiated by the Dalai Lama, who asked Paul Ekman to carry out the project. “In order to get to a state of calm, we need a map of the emotions,” the Dalai Lama said in a statement about the project. Enjoy the atlas, and remember: Wherever you go, there you are.