How do people feel?
“At first, the question seemed flaky,” said Orlagh O’Brien. But for the quiet, withdrawn graphic designer, it was an earnest search for connection. She wondered whether others also felt emotions as physical sensations — anger as a tightness in the gut, happiness as a warm tingle. “We think we’re trapped with a whole world of individuality inside of ourselves, and I had this sense that we have more in common than we realize.”
So O’Brien led a survey of about 250 people over the course of three months. After asking respondents to describe five emotions in drawings, colors and words, she created Emotionally Vague, an online data visualization of the results. Sure enough, distinct patterns emerged. One question, for example, asked respondents to draw lines on a human silhouette to illustrate each emotion. The more pleasurable the emotion, the more the lines radiated outward; the more painful the emotion, the more they contracted inward.