Approaches to understanding emotions
• Many people have believed that emotions are destructive and that it is better to
deal with reason
What is Emotion? First Idea’s
• Emotion: is a psychological state or process that mediates between our concerns
(or goals) and events of our world.
• Sylvan Tomkins says “ at any one time an emotion gives priority to one concern
over another” (gives it urgency).
E.g. going across the road and almost gets hit. Our priority is selfpreservation
driven by fear.
Tend to think of emotions as being locally rational: their rationality doesn’t
range over all possible considerations. Instead they help us deal adaptively to
our current context, emotions make something urgent.
• Emotions are also the source of our values.
Help us form and engage and mediate our relationships.
• Interpersonal equivalent to emotion giving priority
You make another’s concerns your own or when angry with someone you see
it through a parting or resolution.
Charles Darwin: The Evolutionary Approach
• He wrote two books: The origin of species and the expression of the emotions in
Man and Animals. They were more common sense.
• During the time Darwin was writing his books the common theory was that god
gave humans special facial muscles that allowed them to express uniquely human
• Darwin’s theory was that we descended from other species and that we ourselves
• Two questions
How are emotions expressed in humans and other animals? Table 1.1 pg. 6
Where do our emotions come from? Darwin said that they are derived largely
from habits based on past usefulness.
• Emotional expression is based on reflex and some occur when they are useful
others when they are not. Some are triggered involuntary based on past habits.
• Expression is based on past species and past self. (E.g. crying is the vestige of
screaming in infancy which is inhibited in adulthood)
• Darwin says our emotions link us to our past (of species and ourselves).
• He argued for universality of facial expressions.
• It wasn’t until the end of the book did he say that the expression of emotion
physically still have much importance on our welfare and that they are used to communicate (approval smile, disapprovalfrown). They serve a part of making
something more clearly to another and that they navigate our social interactions.
• “Our descent, then, is the origin of our evil passions!! The devil under form of
Baboon is our grandfather”.
Williams James: The Physiological Approach
• In the Principle of psychology it states that we would feel an emotion, which
would impel us in some way. (Feel frightened and run)
• James argued against the above statement saying that we see the bear “the
exciting fact” the emotion is the perception of changes of our body as we react to
the fact (tremble, perspire, heart increases, breathing becomes rapid). Carl Lange
published the same idea, which is why it is known as the JamesLange Theory.
• The core of emotion is the pattern of bodily responses.
• Experience experience of many emotions involves changes of the autonomic
nervous system (inner organs; the hearth, lungs, etc.) and changes of movements
of muscles and joints.
• Emotions give colour and warmth to experience.
• “Bodily changes follow directly the perception of the existing fact… and feeling
of the same changes as they occur, is the emotion”
Sigmund Freud: The Psychotherapeutic Approach
• Certain events can be so damaging that they leave emotional scars that can shape
the rest of ones life.
• He developed case studies.
• He was one of the first to state that emotions are at the core of many mental
• Emotions in the present can derive from ones in the past.
• Psychoanalysis: patient tells stories with gaps, based on interpretation of the
therapist and insights of the patient.
• Our adulthood is derived from the relationships with our parents and other
caregivers. Which was the foundation of john Bowlby's work.
• John Bowlby developed a theory of attachment (parents and child). He stated that
all later social development derives from emotional base.
• Also influential to Richard Lazarus who said that emotions derive from how we
evaluate events in relation to our goals (combined work from Freud and Darwin).
Philosophical and Literary Approaches
Aristotle and the Ethics of Emotions
• Lived from 384 to 322 BCE. He has book rhetoric.
• Stated that emotions are within our control even though we think otherwise. They
depend on what we believe (shaped by our judgements and evaluations). (E.g.
touch by someone who is coming on a date might elicit affection as touch by a
stranger might elicit anxiety). • In poetics: drama about human action and when the actions miscarry. We don’t
know enough to know the consequences of everything we do. Although we
remain responsible for our actions. In theatre people are emotionally moved, we
can also experience catharsis of our emotions (clarification).
• Gave rise to two different schools of philosophy
1) Epicureanism (teachings by Epicurus). Now means devoted to the pursuit of
pleasure. Originally: the idea that humans have a right to the pursuit of
happiness and living naturally in harmony with the environment. (Simple way
with simple pleasures, to chase after things that make us anxious (e.g. money)
it will lead to painful emotions. Living in a way that is pleasurable though
2) Stoicism (teachings by Stoa). Now means indifferent to pleasure or pain. They
were more radical. Originally: emotions are derives from desires. To keep one
from destructive emotions you have to eliminate almost all desires. He also
saw negative emotions as damaging to self and society. The bad thoughts and
desires became the seven deadly sins.
These two philosophical teachings are called ethical because they deal with
the goal of understanding of how one could shape their life for the better.
Living so that rationality is the highest virtue.
Ethical def.: all the considerations we might have as to how best to structure
our own life in relation to others.
They were thought to cure the soul.
Rene Descartes: Philosophically Speaking
• The Passion of the Soul was published where he spoke about emotions. (In those
days called passion).
• 6 fundamental emotions: wonder, desire, joy, love, hatred, and sadness, which all
occur in the thinking aspect of ourselves which he called the soul. Which are also
connected to our bodies (heart rate, breathing etc.)
• He differentiates between emotions from perceptions and emotions within our
bodies based on our concerns and identities. They cannot be fully controlled by
thoughts. We have to apply ourselves to consider the reasons.
• Suggested that emotions depend of how we evaluate events
• First to suggest that they serve important functions: they help us evaluate what is
important to remember and retain and others that we should forget and not dwell
upon. We can reflect upon and expand knowledge of.
• He says that most of the time emotions are functional but sometimes
• Hippocrates and Galen came up with the four humors, which caused disease, and
imbalance of these caused different distinct emotional states. (E.g. blood hope
and vigor from word sanguine, phlegm gives rise to placidity from phlematic,
yellow bile gives rise to anger from choleric, black bile gives rise to despair from
• Descartes than corrected this physiological view by saying emotions arise in the
mind, they functionally enable our plans and affect our bodies. George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans): The World of the Arts
• Wrote an essay called “The Natural History of German Life” in it she reviewed
two books by Von Riehl.
• She states the importance of literary art for emotions (sympathies). This is not just
individual based but also between people. How emotions are expressed through
• Eliot published middle march (about emotions), which portrayed experience from
inside the person’s own consciousness.
• Question: if we are unable to foresee consequences of our actions, if there is no
fate guiding us towards a destiny, that how should we find our way in life?
Answer: our emotions can guide us. It is also the principle means by which we
affect other people.
• Emotions are what make up a relationship. Give basis of how we perceive others
• We experience our emotions differently than how others see them.
Brain Science, Psychology, Sociology
• In the past only overt behaviour was worthy of psychological inquiry, now
neuropsychology is what is more respected.
John Harlow, Tania Singer: New Brain Science
• Case on Phineas gage who damages his frontal lobe during an accident. His
emotions changed to the opposite, loss of ability to conduct their re