How human beings interpret and respond to the world around us makes us who we are. Novelists, aspire to make their characters vivid and to imbue them with realistic emotions, actions, and reactions. It’s all in the emotions: how characters feel, act, and react.
The five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – are our doorway into the world. They are complimented by four internal senses: pain, balance, thirst, and hunger. Each of the five senses function independently, but they interact and complement one another.
When the input from all the senses is processed by the brain, various highly intertwined emotions and feelings occur. What we hear, see, taste, smell, and touch provides us with information which tells us how to feel.
Sense of taste means the direct perception on the tongue.
But what is the tongue perceiving? The way in which we identify flavor involves more than just the tongue. Flavor is based on a combination of the senses of taste, smell, and touch. It is the interaction of these senses which determines whether we like the taste of a given food, dish, liquid or, in the case of children, objects.
There is a strong link between taste and emotion because both senses are connected to the involuntary nervous system. This has contributed to our evolution. Taste aided human in testing the food we were consuming. It was therefore a matter of survival. A bitter or sour taste was an indication of something which could be poisonous such as inedible plants or of rotting protein-rich food.
The tastes sweet and salty, on the other hand, are often a sign of food rich in nutrients.. That is why a bad taste or odor can bring about vomiting or nausea. And flavors that are appetizing increase the production of saliva and gastric juices, making them truly mouthwatering.
● Anatomy of the Tongue
When we chew our food or drink, molecules are set free in our mouths, stimulating taste receptor cells. The cells send signals through three cranial nerves to taste regions in the brainstem ‒ the facial, glossopharyngeal, and vagus nerves. These impulses get routed through the thalamus, which relays sensory information to other brain regions.
But what is it that we taste on our tongue? Our tongues can differentiate between five basic tastes:
The latter taste is created by the presence of glutamate, contained primarily in high-protein foods such as meat. Umami is characterized as tasting pleasant, savory, and also "meaty". The fact that there are sensory cells specifically for the fifth taste, umani, was discovered by a Japanese researcher around 1910. Umani is the Japanese word for savory.
Flavors that are appetizing increase the production of saliva and gastric juices. The rich diversity of taste sensations arises from the wide-ranging combinations of these five basic tastes, such as the sweet-and-sour taste. Hot is not a taste but a touch sensation. Research is being done to identify taste receptors for: Alkaline (the opposite of sour), Metallic, and Water-like.
Image source: alimentarium.org/en/knowledge/senses-taste
Taste buds, the organs in the tongue that register taste, are situated around what are known as the gustatory papillae. There are about 2,000 to 4,000 of these small papillae structures on the upper surface of our tongue.
When the chemical substance responsible for the taste (called tastant), is freed in the mouth and comes into contact a nerve cells. The nerve cells is activated when specific proteins in the wall of the sensory cell are changed, this results in the sensory cell to transmit messenger substances, which in turn activate further nerve cells. These nerve cells then pass data for a particular perception of flavor on to the brain.
The numerous wart-like bumps, called taste papillae, on the mucous membrane of the tongue are where the substance producing the taste is transformed into a nerve signal. The taste papillae contain many sensory cells with a special structure: together with other cells they make up a bud that looks a bit like an orange with its sections arranged around a center.
Most of the taste buds are on the tongue, but also exist inside the oral cavity, in the back of the throat, epiglottis, the nasal cavity, and even in the upper part of the esophagus.
The final step is performed by several cranial nerves which carry the data to part of the lower section of the brainstem (the medulla oblongata). At that point there is a split: Some fibers carry taste signals together with signals from other sensory perceptions like pain, temperature or touch through several exchange points to consciousness.
Around half of the sensory cells respond to all five basic tastes, while the rest specialize in a particular taste.
Our sense of taste deteriorates with age, in a development that is easy to explain. Our sensory cells have a lifespan of just 10 days, but are constantly being renewed. In advanced age, however, this renewal no longer takes place on a one to one basis, with result that the number of sensory cells declines over the course of time.
● Writing Tips On Using Taste
Taste is extremely subjective, personal and evocative, which are some of the reasons why it is so difficult to write. But it can be one of the most powerful senses. Writing using taste is also tricky because the writer must select the right time to employ the imagery. In the wrong place, it can distract the reader.
• Example 1
Put your reader into the mindset of your main character while they’re eating. What does the first coffee of the day taste like to a tired caffeine addict? Is it different from the last coffee? Try describing the sensation of tasting your favorite childhood snack for the first time in many years ‒ what does it feel like to experience that taste again?
• Example 2 - Mix sensory words for effect.
The masterclass.com example is describing the zesty taste of a lemon as bright (a visual description) or the last light dissolving over the horizon as a whimper (an auditory description).
The sense of smell is one that, being housed in the nose, allows us to transform the chemical information of vo latile compounds into nerve signals that, just as the other four senses, will travel to the brain for transformation into the experience of a specific smell.
The volatile compounds are chemical substances carried in the air and trapped in the nose by its structure. The mucosa of the nose contains between twenty and thirty million olfactory cells, allowing humans to perceive an infinite number of smells and aromatic nuances. Far more than tastes.
One factor making olfaction unique among the senses is that its receptor cells are themselves neurons. Each olfactory receptor cell has filaments called cilia, with receptors designed to bind to specific molecules. Like all neurons, the cell also projects a thicker fiber called an axon. The axons come together in the olfactory nerve and go directly to the brain.
In our daily lives the sense of smell gives us the ability to detect danger (like gas leaks), analyze the quality of a food, relate smells with memories, analyze the humidity level and, despite much controversy, detecting pheromones.
● Anatomy of the Nose
• Collection of Data
As already stated, the chemical information of volatile substances is released into the atmosphere as water-soluble molecules. As we breathe, the molecules are pulled into our nostrils.
The tips of olfactory nerve cells equipped with several hair-like structures called cilia, are receptive to different odor molecules. The data is picked up by the neurons in the nose, an impulse is created, and passed along to the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that is responsible for analyzing smells. Your sense of smell is the only sense that has a direct connection to the brain. The others travel first to the spine.
Olfactory cells have receptors that capture the molecules and translate their chemical information into a nerve signal that can be processed by the brain to experience the smell in question. .
• Processing by the Brain
The synapse is a neural process that allows neurons to communicate with each other through the "highways" of the nervous system along which the electric signals travel to the brain.
Once the information is converted into these electric nerve impulses, the impulses have to jump from neuron to neuron in the network ‒ without losing any of the information ‒ causing each neuron to activate. In other words, the release of neurotransmitters by one neuron allows the next one in the network, by absorbing them, knows exactly how it has to be electrically charged. These jumps occur millions of times before data reaches the brain.
The electrical information from the millions of olfactory cells converges in what is known as the olfactory nerve, one in each nostril, and they unite, without passing through the spine, in what is called the olfactory bulb.
The olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area of the brain that is also home to the amygdala and the hippocampus which play major roles in creating and controlling our memories, moods, behaviors, and emotions. The close proximity between these sections of the limbic system explain why smells can bring up powerful memories almost instantaneously.
“Like all the senses, smell is born in the brain. The practically infinite nuances of odors that we can feel are due to the action of this organ. And it is that smells only exist in our brain.” enorcerna.com/wiki/neurology/sense-of-smell
● How The Senses Of Smell And Taste Work Together
Smell and taste smell are linked both in biological structure and in the mind. Both function on touch-specific nerve endings that require the sensed chemical to touch them for activation. Both are your perceptions of tiny molecules in the air and in food. Information we receive as different types of energy and molecules combines into the seamless experience of our surroundings.
The actual process is complicated and involves a great deal of chemistry where receptor proteins involved with both senses are connected by a chain of amino-acids. Too technical for most of us who write novels. We will just have to believe that the interconnections between the two senses are real and can be explained by science.
The importance of odor in the common concept of taste becomes obvious when a person has a snuffed nose from cold and can no longer “taste” food.
● Useful Facts
• People can detect at least one trillion distinct scents.
• Each human has their own distinct odor, similar to unique finger prints.
• Scent cells are renewed every 30 to 60 days.
• The sense of smell is the only cranial nerve that can regenerate.
• You can smell feelings of fear and disgust through sweat, and then you will most likely experience the same emotions.
• Women have a better sense of smell than men, possibly because they have a more developed orbital prefrontal region of the brain. It may have also evolved from an ability to discern the best possible mates, or to help women better bond with newborns.
● Writing Tips On Using Smell
The sense of smell is very closely connected to memory, and a good writer can use that to their advantage. Walking into your grandmother’s house and immediately recognizing the smell of her cooking (or her flowery perfume) can succinctly evoke a powerful emotional response. Similarly, the smell of something unpleasant ‒ the acrid stench of motor oil, the rancid, vinegary smell of expired milk ‒ can provoke strong, visceral reactions in a reader.
• Example 1
As a creative writing exercise, go to a place you know well: A familiar park, the mall, the office, the library. Make a list of the smells that define that place for you. The piney scent of the trees, the antiseptic smell of cleaning fluids, the mustiness of old paper and bookbinding, and the buttery smell of cookies baking, so on.
• Example 2 - A little bit goes a long way.
You don’t (generally) want to overwhelm the reader with olfactory descriptions, but a few well-placed details can create a powerful impression.
Okay, so we know that the numerous sense receptors of the body forward the information gathered, including related emotions and feelings, to the brain. Remember, the brain evaluates these emotions and feelings and the related sensory data using our personal filters, trashes those it deems unimportant, and sends the others to long-term Image source: memory.
Memories make up the ongoing experience of our lives. Our collective memories provide us with a sense of past, present, and future, and make us who we are. Memory makes fictional characters who they are as well.
As you learn and experience the world and changes occur at the synapses and dendrites, more connections in your brain are created. The brain organizes and reorganizes itself in response to your experiences, forming memories triggered by the effects of outside input prompted by experience, education, and training.
● Short Term Memory
We only store sensory information for fractions of a second in our short-term memory. According to Richard C. Mohs, PhD, "Short-term memory has a fairly limited capacity; it can hold about even items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time."
Then the data moves to parts of the frontal cortex responsible for analyzing the sensory inputs and deciding if they're worth remembering. If they are, they're shipped off to the various parts of long term memory.
● Long Term Memory
If our long term memories are essentially who we are and what we believe in, then everything we see and do is filtered through those lenses.
Because our brains only focus on a fraction of the details, our filters kick in. We tend to focus on those things that matter or are important to us as individuals. Although humans seem to rely more heavily on sight, remember that sounds, vibrations, touch, smells, and a general sense of mood are all processed through the brain and its filters in the same way.
Thus, our emotions are essentially products of our filtering system. Everyone is different, and therefore the emotions evoked by stimuli will vary.
EMOTIONS, FEELINGS, AND MOOD ARE NOT THE SAME
Unfortunately, feeling the emotions does not always mean we recognize them for what they are or understand them. Root causes are often elusive. Emotions can be confused with feelings and moods, but the three terms are not interchangeable.
● Emotions are how individuals deal with matters or situations they find personally significant. According to Psychology and Counseling News “Emotional experiences have three components: a subjective experience, a physiological response and a behavioral or expressive response.”
● Feelings arise from an emotional experience and is categorized in the same group of conscious experiences as hunger or pain. Feelings result from emotions and are often liti e a person is conscious of the experience, this is classified in the same category as hunger or pain. A feeling is the result of an emotion and may be swayed by memories, beliefs and other factors.
● Mood is a short-lived, temporary, emotional, low-intensity state. Moods vary from emotions because they lack stimuli and have no clear starting point. For example, insults can trigger the emotion of anger while an angry mood may arise without apparent cause.
THE SEQUENCE OF EMOTION
There is general agreement among psychologists that emotions are made up of three parts: subjective experiences, physiological responses and behavioral responses.
● Subjective Experiences
All emotions begin with a subjective experience which is also referred to as a stimulus: sound, touch, smell, sight, taste. While basic emotions are expressed by all individuals regardless of culture or upbringing, the experience that produces them can be highly subjective.
● Physiological Responses
Almost simultaneously with the brain processing the experience, humans experience a visceral and uncontrollable physical reaction.; The heart speeds up. The eyes widen or narrow. A shudders runs down the spine. You may make an instinctive verbal sound, like crying out or gasping.
This is the autonomic nervous system’s reaction to the emotion we’re experiencing. This system controls involuntary bodily responses and regulates our fight-or-flight response. Studies demonstrate facial expressions play an important role in responding to an emotion.
● Behavioral Responses
The behavioral response follows the uncontrollable response to the emotion, such as a smile, a grimace, a laugh or a sigh, along with many other reactions depending on societal norms and personality. Only after the involuntary and uncontrollable response does a person’s conscious thought process kick in. You can then think and speak. “What just happened?”
When writing novels, it is important to show the character’s reaction to the emotional experience. Showing that reaction should be presented in the proper sequence. The subjective response doesn’t show and happens in the brain. The physiological response is felt viscerally and may include movement, facial expression and inarticulate sound. The behavioral response, rational thinking and speech (which is more than a grunt or scream) comes last.
If the reaction is out of sequence, the reader will feel that something is off and the scene will seem somehow unrealistic.
BASIC and COMPLEX EMOTIONS
Throughout history many theories and hypotheses have been presented by the scientific minds of the time. According to Psychology and Counseling News, documentation of the concept of basic or primary emotions dates back to a reference in the Book of Rights, a first-century Chinese encyclopedia.
Measuring and defining human emotional is a challenge that people have confronted for centuries. Basic emotions are associated with recognizable facial expressions and tend to happen automatically. The field of Psychology has generally embraced Paul Ekman’s list of the six basic emotions; the seven added in 1999 are less universally accepted by the profession.
The body is a marvelous design. When you take into account what goes into daily living and how many internal processes have to happen and how many nerve impulses have to reach the brain and be processed just for us to experience the five senses, not to mention movement, it boggles the mind. Everything humans see, hear, feel, taste, and smell occurs seemingly-instantaneous, and often emotions follow closely behind, although some may take a while to kick in.
JUST SAYIN’ !
Sources: Five senses
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