Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Emotion
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Emotion

Emotions
Love
Hate
Fear
Anger
Sorrow
Joy
Disgust
Acceptance
Anticipation
Surprise
Jealousy

In psychology, and in ordinary language, emotion is used to describe a state of a person. Examples of emotions are fear, anger, joy, hate; see list of emotions. Emotional state is related to mood, sometimes even identified with it, although emotions are generally considered to be more transient than moods.

Emotional state is sometimes thought of as being internal and unobservable. However, this is not an assertion which is supported by empirical evidence, since externally-visible changes almost always accompany emotional changes. Emotion is also sometimes regarded as the antithesis of reason; as is suggested by phrases such as appeal to emotion or don't let your emotions take over. Again, there is no empirical support for any generalization of this kind: indeed, anger or fear can often be thought of as a systematic response to observed facts. In any case, it should be clear that the relation between logic and argument on the one hand and emotion on the other, is one which merits careful study.

Table of contents
1 Culture and emotion
2 Mental health and emotion
3 Common views on emotions
4 Theories of emotions
5 Nussbaum on emotion
6 Further reading

Culture and emotion

It is not even clear whether emotion is a purely human phenomenon, since animals seem to exhibit conditions which resemble emotional responses such as anger, fear or sadness.

Much of what can be said about emotions, as well as the history of what has been said about them, is conditioned by culture and even politics. That is to say specific emotional responses may be influenced by cultural norms of propriety. This methodological relativity is entirely different from the question of whether emotions are universal or are culturally determined.

Mental health and emotion

Emotions are generally regarded as an indicator of mental health. For example a wide class of psychiatric disorders relating to mood are classified as affective disorders. Depression for instance, is an affective disorder with a range of symptoms such as the prolonged and painful experience of sadness. On the other hand individuals that are incapable of experiencing emotions such as sadness or anger are referred to as suffering from emotional poverty reflective of many personality disorders.

Common views on emotions

Following are some propositions concerning the nature of emotions. Some of these assertions may be mutually contradictory. Nonetheless, they are an indicator of the wide range of beliefs on this subject:

Theories of emotions

Questions concerning the mystery of human emotion were the territory of a number of disciplines until the development of modern psychology. Over the last century, psychologically-based theories have provided influential, if incomplete explanations of how emotional experience is produced.

The feeling component of emotion encompasses a vast spectrum of possible responses. Psychologists have attempted to offer general classifications of these responses, and as with the colour spectrum, systematically distinguishing between them largely depends on the level of precision desired. One of the most influential classification approaches is Robert Plutchik's eight primary emotions - anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, curiosity, acceptance and joy. Plutchik argues for the primacy of these emotions by showing each to be the trigger of behaviour with high survival value (i.e. fear: fight or flight).

Principally involved in the physiological component of emotion are: the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the limbic system, and the hypothalamus. Fear, in particular learned fear, is thought to depend on the amygdala.

There is considerable debate as to whether emotions and emotional experiences are universal or culturally determined. One of the first modern attempts to classify emotions was Adam Smith's study, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This book is based largely on data from Western Europe. Some anthropologists have explored the relationship between emotional disposition or expression and culture, most notably Ruth Benedict in her ethnological study, Patterns of Culture; Jean Briggs in her ethnography Never in Anger, Michelle Rosaldo in her ethnography Knowledge and Passion; Lila Abu-Lughod in her ethnography Veiled Sentiments; and Katherin Lutz in her ethnography Unnatural Emotions. Paul Ekman has found that some facial expressions of emotion appear to be culturally independent, as described in his book Emotions Revealed.

In his book Descartes' Error, the neurologist Antonio Damasio has developed a universal model for human emotions. This model is based on a rejection of the Cartesian body-mind dualism that he believes has crippled scientific attempts to understand human behaviour, and draws on psychological case-histories and his own neuropsychological experiments. He began with the assumption that human knowledge consists of dispositional representations stored in the brain. He thus defines thought as the process by which these representations are manipulated and ordered.

One of these representations, however, is of the body as a whole, based on information from the endocrine and peripheral nervous systems. Damasio thus defines "emotion" as: the combination of a mental evaluative process, simple or complex, with dispositional responses to that process, mostly toward the body proper, resulting in an emotional body state, but also toward the brain itself (neurotransmitter nuclei in the brain stem), resulting from additional mental changes.

Damasio distinguishes emotions from feelings, which he takes to be a more inclusive category. He argues that the brain is continually monitoring changes in the body, and that one "feels" an emotion when one experiences "such changes in juxtaposition to the mental images that initiated the cycle".

Damasio thus further distinguishes between "primary emotions", which he takes to be innate, and "secondary emotions," in which feelings allow people to form "systematic connections between categories of objects and situations, on the one hand, and primary emotions, on the other."

Damasio has suggested that the neurological mechanisms of emotion and feeling evolved in humans because they create strong biases to situationally appropriate behaviours that do not require conscious thought. He argued that the time-consuming process of rational thought often decreases one's chances of survival in situations that require instant decisions.

Daniel Goleman and other investigators have researched what is entailed in the abilities to manage one's own and other people's emotions. See Emotional intelligence.

Apart from the common western views as described above, also traditional systems such as Buddhist psychology survived for thousands of years with treasuries of experiential knowledge, but are often disregarded because of their subjective approach. However, exactly the aspect of introspection is extremely valuable for psychology - as long as we have no machines which can actually show us thoughts and thought processes, a certain level of subjectiveness is unavoidable.

Nussbaum on emotion

Philosophers have considered the problem of emotions from a number of different angles, and in recent years have attempted to integrate, or at least relate, accounts of emotion found in literature, psychoanalysis, behavioural psychology, neurobiology and in the philosophical literature itself. Martha Nussbaum, to take one example, has issued a recent challenge to theorists of emotion who understand emotions to be irrational states grafted onto a rational, emotionless thought process. This understanding of emotions may be considered the epiphenomenal account; emotions may be the end-product of cognitive processes -- such as a feeling of anger upon realizing that one's been cheated -- but they can never take their place among other mental states, such as believing, as equals. In this account, one may, for example, reason perfectly well about an ethical quandary without experiencing emotion.

In Nussbaum's account, emotions are essentially cognitive states of a subject; what distinguishes emotions from other thoughts is that they refer to events or states in the world that directly relate to what she terms the individual's own self-flourishing. Here, self-flourishing refers to a constellation of concepts taken from the Aristotelian notion of Eudaimonia.

Nussbaum's primary goal in her recent work on emotion is to support this cognitive account of emotions against the epiphenomenal account by showing how emotions both have a logic -- can be considered to follow coherently or not upon one another -- and are directly responsive to external facts. For Nussbaum, the fact that the emotion of jealousy can coexist with that of love, but not with that of, say, friendly-feeling, is a consequence of their cognitive properties. Accounts of psychoanalysis and of the sequence of emotions experienced when listening to music are also, in Nussbaum's view, supportive of the cognitivist account.

See also Emotion theory, List of emotions, Empathy

Further reading