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PSY260H1 Chapter Notes -Autonomic Nervous System, The Automatic, Paul Ekman

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Martin Ralph

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Emotional Memory
Memories concerned with strong emotions will most likely be remembered more than
events that are not.
What is Emotion?
It is a cluster of three distinct but interrelated responses: physiological responses (changes
in heart rate, etc), overt behaviours (facial expressions, tone of voice, etc), and conscious
feelings (sadness, happiness, etc).
Paul Ekman suggests that there is a small set of universal emotions that are hardwired
into humans from birth. These are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise.
All humans can recognize the markers of these emotions in others. The outward
expression of emotions can be modified by culture and society.
Is there such a thing as emotional memory?
The problem we face when answering this question is that we do not understand what we
mean when we say emotional memory. Think of an emotional memory; when you
remember that event, what exactly do you remember? The situation, the other people, do
you remember what that emotion actually was? Can you feel that emotion when you
think about it? The emotion in the moment, when you experience it, is different than
when you remember it. This works with pain as well. Do you have the pain you are
remembering or are you remembering simply the fact that you felt pain. The feeling
cannot be conjured up again; there is no memory of the emotion itself. Does the emotion
come into your sensibility or do you simply remember/recall the event? If this did occur,
you would be completely deliberated every time you think about emotional memories;
therefore it is a highly adaptive survival mechanism.
What is the difference between a memory of an emotion and an emotional response?
Emotions can collaborate to create an emotional response. The response is what you feel
as an emotion but the memory is non-emotional. This does not mean emotional memory
does not exist since we can condition neutral things in the environment and associate
good or bad things happening to us with it. These associations can trigger emotional
responses. We need to be able to separate what we actual feel during the emotional event
from the memory of it and from the reconstruction of that event when we remember those
other details.
We need to have an explanation of what is intuitive to us. We can remember
good/bad/happy/angry/sad times and associate them with our environment. Therefore,
there must be something retained in our brains that connect the emotional response with
the experienced circumstance.
We want to be able to explain how emotions are remembered. In order to know this we
must know if emotions are actually remembered. But to know this we have to know what
emotion is in the first place. This has been difficult to come up with a sound definition of
what an emotion actually is.

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What is emotion?
You know what emotion is but how do you know it? Do you have an intuitive sense of
what emotion is or do you have a dictionary definition of it? Psychiatrists and therapists
for example, consider emotion to be like this list above (affection, anger, desire, despair,
etc). They will ask you to take a look at the list and to get in touch with your emotions,
understand what you’re feeling, etc and try to define it as one of these.
What this means is that if you can do this, you are able to see these words and understand
if you are feeling a certain way that is associated with those words. The definition of
emotion (in a simple linguistic way) is the outward expression of something; you are
emoting and sending out signals to someone. They are basically signs in our
environment; music, rain, etc, that tell us about things in our environment. Most emotions
involve different changes in the automatic nervous system.
Why is emotion valuable?
Emotions tell us something else; they tell us where we stand in respect to certain things.
They direct our behaviour; help us behave in a way that is compatible that helps us
acquire the things we need. It tells us about our relationship of the world. It changes our
behaviour somewhat like thirst and hunger but it’s not a purely physiological necessity it
is directed at our behaviour in respect to the rest of the world.
Other human beings and even animals can tell our emotions. We use them to
communicate with others about how we stand in relation to them, or how we feel, or etc.
Eyebrows, for example, are used to partially signal these things. Facial expressions are
driven and are part of the emotional response that helps us communicate.
Emotions help us with learning and memory of positive and negative things in the
environment. We can associate danger with certain signs in our environment. Some of
them come innately and built in but most of them we experience and we remember. We
don’t need to have an intellectual memory of danger, etc, we can see it and our memory
is increased by having an emotional response as well as a knowledgeable and explicit
recall without any emotion at all.
We are built to understand the feelings in each other. Without emotion no one would
signal and no one would be able to understand what another person is feeling. This is
important to us because it helps the individual understand where they stand with the other
person (without asking). Not in an intellectual communication but emotional
What is the difference between emotion and feeling?
There may be a difference between emotions that you emote to others and those you keep
internal. It may be argued that if an emotion is the outward feeling of something, then
you need to have that feeling somewhere in the first place (physically). Feelings are
therefore probably sensory in nature; for example, getting hit on the head hurts but it is
not necessarily an emotional reaction itself and the feeling of pain is not emotional.
Feelings work off the number different sensory inputs that we have; these inputs are

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either external or internal and they tell us about what we need (basic needs type of things
like avoidance of pain, food, water, sex, etc). Our sensory systems tell us when we need
them; hunger = stomach pain, etc.
But is the emotion remembered or is it all of the things that trigger the emotional
response remembered?
What is an emotional response?
An emotional response will communicate with other people and it will include peripheral
responses and physiological responses. Behaviourally we have actions, gestures, and
facial expressions that can be transmitted but there are other physiological changes that
occur in the periphery. That tell us not only what the other person what we are feeling but
we, ourselves, are feeling. We can create these responses for other people and other
people feel those responses. Fear for example: All these responses to fear revolve around
the decreasing of physiological systems (since they are no longer really needed for you to
‘work’). This is a distraction, most of the responses in fear cause the organism not to
allow it to be detected, giving it time to asses what will happen next or to provide a
distraction and allows you to escape.
What is fear?
Is a change in the automatic nervous system. It basically controls muscle, heart rate, and
glands. It also involves changes in blood flow to different organs; you blush because
there is an increase of blood to the face, you become pallid and ready because there is
less blood flow to the periphery, you defecate because that will distract the predator.
These involuntary; you do not think about doing them.
What is the automatic nervous system?
It controls all the organs. It controls its activity, blood flow and indirectly controls the
sensation that is sent to the brain by those organs. There is a sensory apparatus in the
stomach what will signal to our brain that we need food (this is not an emotion but a
feeling that we are hungry). Fear can be expressed in the intestine and colon and love and
desire through constrictions in the heart; they are all feelings sent to the brain based on
signals generated in these peripheral organs. So the emotional system includes the control
of activity in these peripheral organs which send the signal to the brain which can be
interpreted. It conveys a natural need to the brain that tells it that something has to be
done with those systems. But these same systems communicate something else when we
have an emotional response and the brain tells us whether or not it is emotional or a pain,
or etc.
What are the chakras?
The chakras represent the center of emotional input to the brain. They are defined as
energy centers inside and outside the body and there are about six or seven of them. If
you overlap the central nervous system with this it is easy enough to image that what we
actually define scientifically is equal to what is defined as metaphysical centers of
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