Kama muta: A new term for that warm, fuzzy feeling we all get
Social media posts that evoke strong kama muta often go viral – for example, cute kittens, puppies and special animal friendships.
Some emotions you seem to recognise the moment you feel them – you know when you're angry, surprised, embarrassed or jealous.
And yet you probably can't name one of life's most wonderful emotions (in fact, even psychologists have only recently begun to study it). It's hiding in plain sight: without realising what you were feeling, you've probably experienced this same emotion in diverse situations such as when reunited with family or others you love; in worship; at a wedding; when you first held your newborn baby; when your team won a championship; or when a kitten climbed into your lap, licked your hand, curled up and fell asleep there. You might have felt it marching in a social-movement demonstration, or participating in a support or recovery group.
Now think back. At any of those times, was there a wonderful warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart? Did you cry tears of joy? Were you choked up with happiness? Did you get goosebumps or chills of delight? Feel so buoyant you were almost floating? Perhaps you put your hand on your heart and said 'Awww!' If you had these sensations, you were probably feeling this mysterious emotion. Next, you probably wanted to hug everyone, or call your grandparents to tell them how much you love them.
Although there is no exact word in any everyday language for this emotion, English speakers seeking to name the feeling might call it, depending on the context: being moved, touched, team pride, patriotism, being touched by the Spirit, burning in the bosom, the feels, or, when evoked by a memory, nostalgia. However, none of these terms captures precisely what the emotion is – and using any one of them conceals the fact that though it has many names, it is one emotion. So we coined a scientific term for it, 'kama muta', borrowed from the ancient Sanskrit where it meant 'moved by love', written in the beautiful Devanāgarī script as काममूत.
Kama muta is recognisable by six co-occurring features:
- It is evoked by the sudden intensification of communal sharing – that is, sudden 'love' or kindness;
- It is brief (typically less than a minute or two, though it can repeat in rapid succession);
- It feels good (though it can occur in the context of other, negative emotions);
- When intense, it is often accompanied by the same set of physical sensations: a warm, fuzzy feeling in the centre of the chest; moist eyes or tears; being choked up (a lump in the throat); chills or goosebumps; and often a smile and putting the palm(s) on the chest, sometimes saying 'Awwww!';
- It motivates devotion and compassion to communal sharing – also known as 'loving kindness';
- Depending on the language and the context, it is often labelled with the terms mentioned above.
In several experiments with more than 10,000 participants in 19 nations in 15 languages, involving observation, interviews, diary studies, comparative ethnology and history, we have shown that these six features frequently co-occur, in the specific contexts mentioned above, and many others where love ignites.
We've conducted observational research in churches and mosques, in poetry lounges and memorial sites, at Alcoholics Anonymous and eating-disorder residential treatment programmes, in birth centres and with new parents. We have explored hundreds of historical sources and hundreds of ethnographies from diverse cultures all over the world.
Wherever we've looked, in myriad contexts and cultures, we've found the same pattern: kama muta and its six features are consistently evoked by viewing videos of sudden connection or kindness, confirming that it is one emotion. So, for example, when we show participants short videos that involve love springing up between fictional characters, the participants tend to get warm feelings in the heart, often along with tears or goosebumps, just as we find in participant observation in Sufi and Pentecostal services when the worshipper suddenly feels divine love.
Kama muta is closely related to, but not the same as, love. Love is an enduring sentiment, whereas kama muta is the momentary emotion that occurs when love ignites. That is, you feel kama muta when new love emerges (such as a first kiss, or someone shows you kindness), or existing love suddenly becomes salient, or a sense of belonging, connection, and identity emerges, for example at a march or demonstration. The suddenly created or intensified love can be romantic, platonic, or religious. It can be with one person, with a family or team, or with the entire Earth. It can be the gratitude for an unexpected kindness, or the sense of connection and belonging at a warm welcome.
That feeling is all around us. Social media posts that evoke strong kama muta often go viral – for example, cute kittens, puppies and special animal friendships. The popularity of some literature (especially sentimental novels) and movies (especially romantic comedies) is, we suspect, often largely due to the kama muta they evoke. Kama muta is often the essence of oratory and poetry such as William Shakespeare's sonnets and Matsuo Bashō's haiku. Many kinds of music evoke it in multiple ways, as do certain experiences of oneness with nature. It appears to be a universal emotion, present in diverse cultures throughout history.
Many social practices have culturally evolved via their capacity to evoke this appealing emotion. The more a form of worship, a type of music or a narrative evokes kama muta, the more people seek it out, tell others about it and reproduce it. When a Pixar movie, a wedding practice or poetry or photographs evoke kama muta, they spread across the globe. Preachers, orators, marketing creatives and political consultants who can create pitches that effectively evoke kama muta are more successful than those who cannot. Religious practices that engender kama muta presumably attract more worshippers and motivate those who have experienced kama muta to proselytise and to found new congregations. Kama muta moves the world.
When people are isolated and vulnerable, excluded and distressed, kama muta can reconnect them. Patients who feel kama muta with their psychotherapists seem to become more trusting and more committed to healing. Women in residential treatment for eating disorders who bond through kama muta apparently become more motivated to recover. Addicts who experience kama muta in support meetings might be more committed to stay sober. Immigrants who have kama muta experiences with people in their host country are likely to feel a stronger sense of belonging and identification with their hosts. And people who have kama muta experiences with immigrants or LGBTQ persons become more likely to embrace them.
Even a small unexpected kindness kindles kama muta: a thoughtful gift, a hug, an invitation to join a meal, an appearance at your bedside in the hospital. The lonely are more likely to fall ill and more likely to die; in contrast, kama muta connects, probably enhancing wellbeing and health.
We've only been studying kama muta for a few years, so many mysteries remain. We don't yet know the underlying biochemistry or what neural processes are involved in recognising sudden intensifications of love, or how they generate the sensations and motives characteristic of kama muta. We are planning many more studies in diverse contexts, from psychotherapy to charity giving to religious devotion. Join us on our journey of discovery by following our latest research into kama muta on our lab website.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
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Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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