Kama Muta: The Most Intense Emotion

July 4, 2019
Kama muta is defined as the universal emotion we feel when we're moved to tears. Read all about it here!

Kama muta is a term that comes from Sanskrit and literally means “to be moved, filled with love and/or admiration”. Researchers tell us it’s the most intense universal emotion because it defines that moment when we feel full of affection. It’s the surprise and admiration we experience towards something or someone. It’s that moment when our eyes begin to tear up due to excess of emotion.

It isn’t easy to define this emotion with words. However, there are several studies with the purpose to find out, among other things, if it’s an emotion that manifests in all human cultures. They’ve been trying to find out how we all experience and describe it.

The Language of Emotions

In our language, kama muta could be translated as “being moved”. However, note that to define it in this way is limiting because it connects with something deeper that’s both positive and negative in human beings. We can’t reduce it, for example, to a simple infatuation because it transcends our own emotional relationships.

It’s that moment in which, suddenly, something awakens inside of us. Something that also invades us at that very moment. It’s a brief sensation, but one so intense it lingers in our memory.

Alan Fiske, professor of anthropology at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), points out that it’s a social emotion.

This means that kama muta doesn’t happen in solitude. It’s always present in connection to an event, a person, or a group of people who pleasantly surprise and inspire us. Something or someone that moves us to the point of goosebumps. Or a knot in the stomach or the sudden tears that appear in our eyes. Let’s find out more about this.

“The mutated kama could motivate people to join together to serve the disadvantaged poor. It’s a kind of emotion that can move us to something more than love: we must also move towards compassion.”

-Alan Fiske-

A blue-green haired woman soaking up the sun.

Kama Muta: An Intense, Comforting Experience

For example, think of a friend who did something amazing for you. Perhaps, the birth of a child or attending your best friend’s wedding. A meeting or an event with people you love but haven’t seen in a long time. Feeling proud of someone. Attending a TED talk by your favorite author or going to a play or a concert and feeling deeply inspired… These are just a few examples of what defines this emotion. This is kama muta.

Just a few days ago, many universities from around the world published an extensive, detailed study about this. Its purpose was to reveal what they found about the breakdown in regards to the emotions that comprise kama muta. What they discovered is that basically every person/culture express and experience it the same manner both physically and psychologically. For example, everyone experienced the following:

  • Feelings of euphoria.
  • A certain warmth in their chest.
  • Teary eyes.
  • Chills or piloerection (goosebumps).
  • Breathlessness, sort of like a knot in the throat.
  • Butterflies in the stomach.
  • A feeling of zero gravity, kind of like floating in the air.

Clearly, all of these are physiological symptoms. However, scientists are increasingly interested in this type of emotion because, in a way, they never stopped studying it. What is it that moves and inspires human beings? Are we all moved by the same things? If so, is kama muta, therefore, a universal experience? The answer seems to be: yes.

Kama Muta: The Emotion of Human Connection

Investigations about kama muta were popular for a couple of years. In fact, there are organizations such as the kama muta lab. They periodically provide information as that’s as interesting as it is revealing. Thus, remember above all that this is the purpose of emotions in human beings.

After all, the word “emotion” does mean movement in Latin. Every emotion, be it happiness, joy, sadness, fear, or anger, have a “duty” to change us. To give us information about our internal reality in order to shape behavior and generate a reaction. Kama muta is also about getting us to react. However, that reaction sprouts from a dimension that’s as powerful as it’s determining: love.

A woman hugging and kissing a cat.

Of course, each one of us has the ability to be moved by something or someone. It may be our pet at times or perhaps our spouse. Perhaps it’s the result of watching a performance or reading a book. The fact is that which moves us creates an emotional imprint that changes who we are. The purpose of such changes may be simply to experience compassion and affection for a certain someone. To take care of them and protect them. Or to feel passionate. Perhaps it’s just to become a better person after being inspired by someone’s story, even if we’ve never met them.

Universal Emotion

Here we’re also facing a universal experience, regardless of gender, culture, language, or country. We’re all frequently moved by something or someone. Moreover, feeling it’s not only a positive thing but we could even say necessary. This is because few of our emotions facilitate both the desire to connect and the drive to start new things. To be motivated by feeling the exciting blend of joy, hope, admiration, and affection.

Kama muta is goodness and inspiration in one. There are few emotional impulses that are more revealing in a human being than that, suddenly, something will move us. The feeling that something touches us to the point of feeling intensely, suddenly, perfectly happy. It may be only for a brief moment and yet, it’s one that’s as healing as it is motivating.

  • Fiske, AP, Seibt, B. y Schubert, T. (2019). La emoción de devoción repentina: Kama Muta y las prácticas culturales cuya función es evocarla. Revisión de la emoción , 11 (1), 74–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917723167
  • Seibt, B., Schubert, T. W., Zickfeld, J. H., Zhu, L., Arriaga, P., Simão, C., … Fiske, A. P. (2018). Kama Muta: Similar Emotional Responses to Touching Videos Across the United States, Norway, China, Israel, and Portugal. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology49(3), 418–435. https://doi.org/10.1177/002202211774624