PSYC18—CHAPTER 1: APPROACHES TO UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS
What is an Emotion? First Idea/19 Century Founders
Charles Darwin: The EvolutionaryApproach
• Darwin published important book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Surprisingly, unlike most
scientists, Darwin did not propose that emotions had functions in our survival.
• He wanted to answer how emotions are triggered in humans and animals and where they come from.
• He suggested that emotions derive largely from habits that in our evolutionary or individual pasts may have been
helpful (e.g. tears do not lubricate the eyes, hairs stand up during fear for no apparent function—these are triggered
involuntarily in circumstances analogous to those that had triggered the original habits). Thus, emotions are like the
appendix (a small organ that Darwin proposed was functional in a past ancestor, but is no longer needed to humans
• Other expressions are traced to infancy (e.g. babies cry to protect to their eyes while they are closed, when adults cry,
the still secrete tears, but these tears have no function). Also, adult affection can be traced to the pattern of parents
hugging young children.
• Despite his reservation, Darwin also thought emotions had useful social functions.
William James: The PhysiologicalApproach
• Wrote the Principles of Psychology in which he argued against the idea that when we feel an emotion it impels us in a
certain way. Instead he proposed the “exciting fact”—that the emotion is the perception of changes in the body (e.g.
when we feel frightened we feel our heart beating, legs frozen, skin cold etc.).
• James proposed two ideas:
Core of emotion is the pattern of bodily responses as a result of changes in the autonomic nervous system (e.g.
heart, blood vessels, stomach, and sweat glands) as well as changes from movements of muscles and joints.
Emotions give “color and warmth” to experience and without them, everything would be pale.
Sigmund Freud: The Psychotherapeutic Approach
• Proposed that certain events can be so damaging that they leave emotional scars that can shape the rest of our lives.
He argued that emotions are at the core of mental illness.
• Like Darwin, he thought that present emotion could be derived from the past. He told that emotional life of adulthood
derived from relationships we had in childhood with caregivers.
• This idea was the foundation of John Bowlby’s famous “attachment theory”—the idea that social development
derived from the bond between an infant and its mother or other caregiver.
• Freud’s theory also influenced Richard Lazarus who combined Darwin’s evolutionary ideas to propose that emotions
derive from how we evaluate events in the environment in relation to our goals.
Philosophical and LiteraryApproaches
Aristotle and the Ethics of Emotion
• Fundamental insight suggested that whereas many assume that emotions happen to be outside of our control, really
they depend on what we believe. In this way, we are responsible for our emotions as we are responsible for our
beliefs (thus, the emotion is defined cognitively).
• In his book Rhetoric he describes how different judgments give rise to different emotions (e.g. anger is an impulse
accompanied by pain).
• Another example: if a friend gently touched your arm, you may feel either affection or anxiety. Our experience
depends on our judgments and evaluation.
• Aristotle also noticed two effects of drama:
At the theatre, people are moved emotionally (we feel sympathy and fear as character feels)
We experience catharsis of our emotions—the clarification or clearing away of objects to understanding. By
viewed and thus feeling emotions of sympathy and fear, and understand consciously for ourselves their
relation to the consequences of human action in a world that can be known only imperfectly.
• Two schools grew out of Aristotle’s thought:
Epicureanism: - Based on the teachings of Epicurus.
- “Devoted to the pursuit of pleasure”—focused on the simple pleasures and enjoying life, rather than
chasing goals such as power or wealth.
- Got its name from the stoa, where the philosophers taight.
- “Indifferent to pleasure or pain”—since they thought that emotions derive from desires, to free
oneself from crippling desires, one should extirpate all desires.
- Emotions are damaging to society and should be disciplined out.
- Is considered more “ethical” since it not only focused on understanding emotions, but also on how it
could shape one’s life for the better.
• Both the epicureans and the stoics believed that philosophy held the cure for the soul and focused on emotions as the
chief source for the soul’s diseases.
• Wrote the Passions of the Soul which offers a detailed discussion of sensory and motor nerves, reflexes and memory.
• Claimed six fundamental emotions—wonder, desire, joy, love, hatred and sadness—which occur in the thinking
aspects of the self (the soul). At the same time, they are closely connected to our bodies (e.g. our heart beats faster
• Taught that emotions (internal) and perceptions (external) are different.
• Since emotions come from the soul, the can be regulated—but not controlled—by our thoughts.
• Emotions can be function or dysfunctional (e.g. when we love someone, our love perpetuates at the thought of that
person, but when we are overanxious/depressed we dwell on issues we cannot affect).
• Greek doctors (e.g. Hippocrates and Galen) came up with the humors and believed that disease was caused by
imbalance in the humors.
Sanguine: blood gives rise to hope and vigor.
Phelgamtic: phlegm gives rise to plasticity.
Choleric: yellow bile gives rise to anger.
Melancholy: black bile gives rise to despair.
George Eliot: The World of Arts
• Wrote an essay entitled The Natural History of German life
• Literary art is important for emotions—“sympathies”
• Wrote Middlemarch a novel about emotions which portray experience from inside the person’s own consciousness.
Each character has aspirations and plans, but each is affected by unforeseeable circumstances. Suggested our emotion
acts like a personal compass and also a principal means by which we affect other people.
Brain, Science, Psychology, Sociology
John Harlow and Tania Singer: New Brain Science
• Phineas Gage—“balance between his intellectual faculties and his animal propensities seem to have been destroyed”.
Gage was now impatient and irritable as opposed to being previously amiable.
• Other people with frontal lobe damage—unemployed, divorced, social lives in chaos because they no longer knew