What is Emotional Self-Regulation?

Introduction

Emotional self-regulation or emotion regulation is the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed.

Refer to Emotional Dysregulation.

It can also be defined as extrinsic and intrinsic processes responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions. Emotional self-regulation belongs to the broader set of emotion regulation processes, which includes both the regulation of one’s own feelings and the regulation of other people’s feelings.

Emotion regulation is a complex process that involves initiating, inhibiting, or modulating one’s state or behaviour in a given situation – for example, the subjective experience (feelings), cognitive responses (thoughts), emotion-related physiological responses (for example heart rate or hormonal activity), and emotion-related behaviour (bodily actions or expressions). Functionally, emotion regulation can also refer to processes such as the tendency to focus one’s attention to a task and the ability to suppress inappropriate behaviour under instruction. Emotion regulation is a highly significant function in human life.

Every day, people are continually exposed to a wide variety of potentially arousing stimuli. Inappropriate, extreme or unchecked emotional reactions to such stimuli could impede functional fit within society; therefore, people must engage in some form of emotion regulation almost all of the time. Generally speaking, emotion dysregulation has been defined as difficulties in controlling the influence of emotional arousal on the organisation and quality of thoughts, actions, and interactions. Individuals who are emotionally dysregulated exhibit patterns of responding in which there is a mismatch between their goals, responses, and/or modes of expression, and the demands of the social environment. For example, there is a significant association between emotion dysregulation and symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating pathology, and substance abuse. Higher levels of emotion regulation are likely to be related to both high levels of social competence and the expression of socially appropriate emotions.

Theory

Process Model

The process model of emotion regulation is based upon the modal model of emotion. The modal model of emotion suggests that the emotion generation process occurs in a particular sequence over time. This sequence occurs as follows:

  1. Situation: the sequence begins with a situation (real or imagined) that is emotionally relevant.
  2. Attention: attention is directed towards the emotional situation.
  3. Appraisal: the emotional situation is evaluated and interpreted.
  4. Response: an emotional response is generated, giving rise to loosely coordinated changes in experiential, behavioural, and physiological response systems.

Because an emotional response (4.) can cause changes to a situation (1.), this model involves a feedback loop from (4.) Response to (1.) Situation. This feedback loop suggests that the emotion generation process can occur recursively, is ongoing, and dynamic.

The process model contends that each of these four points in the emotion generation process can be subjected to regulation. From this conceptualisation, the process model posits five different families of emotion regulation that correspond to the regulation of a particular point in the emotion generation process. They occur in the following order:

  1. Situation selection.
  2. Situation modification.
  3. Attentional deployment.
  4. Cognitive change.
  5. Response modulation.

The process model also divides these emotion regulation strategies into two categories:

  • Antecedent-focused strategies (i.e. situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, and cognitive change) occur before an emotional response is fully generated.
  • Response-focused strategies (i.e. response modulation) occur after an emotional response is fully generated.

Strategies

Situation Selection

Situation selection involves choosing to avoid or approach an emotionally relevant situation. If a person selects to avoid or disengage from an emotionally relevant situation, he or she is decreasing the likelihood of experiencing an emotion. Alternatively, if a person selects to approach or engage with an emotionally relevant situation, he or she is increasing the likelihood of experiencing an emotion.

Typical examples of situation selection may be seen interpersonally, such as when a parent removes his or her child from an emotionally unpleasant situation. Use of situation selection may also be seen in psychopathology. For example, avoidance of social situations to regulate emotions is particularly pronounced for those with social anxiety disorder and avoidant personality disorder.

Effective situation selection is not always an easy task. For instance, humans display difficulties predicting their emotional responses to future events. Therefore, they may have trouble making accurate and appropriate decisions about which emotionally relevant situations to approach or to avoid.

Situation Modification

Situation modification involves efforts to modify a situation so as to change its emotional impact. Situation modification refers specifically to altering one’s external, physical environment. Altering one’s “internal” environment to regulate emotion is called cognitive change.

Examples of situation modification may include injecting humour into a speech to elicit laughter or extending the physical distance between oneself and another person.

Attentional Deployment

Attentional deployment involves directing one’s attention towards or away from an emotional situation.

Distraction

Distraction, an example of attentional deployment, is an early selection strategy, which involves diverting one’s attention away from an emotional stimulus and towards other content. Distraction has been shown to reduce the intensity of painful and emotional experiences, to decrease facial responding and neural activation in the amygdala associated with emotion, as well as to alleviate emotional distress. As opposed to reappraisal, individuals show a relative preference to engage in distraction when facing stimuli of high negative emotional intensity. This is because distraction easily filters out high-intensity emotional content, which would otherwise be relatively difficult to appraise and process.

Rumination

Rumination, an example of attentional deployment, is defined as the passive and repetitive focusing of one’s attention on one’s symptoms of distress and the causes and consequences of these symptoms. Rumination is generally considered a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy, as it tends to exacerbate emotional distress. It has also been implicated in a host of disorders including major depression.

Worry

Worry, an example of attentional deployment, involves directing attention to thoughts and images concerned with potentially negative events in the future. By focusing on these events, worrying serves to aid in the down-regulation of intense negative emotion and physiological activity. While worry may sometimes involve problem solving, incessant worry is generally considered maladaptive, being a common feature of anxiety disorders, particularly generalised anxiety disorder.

Thought Suppression

Thought suppression, an example of attentional deployment, involves efforts to redirect one’s attention from specific thoughts and mental images to other content so as to modify one’s emotional state. Although thought suppression may provide temporary relief from undesirable thoughts, it may ironically end up spurring the production of even more unwanted thoughts. This strategy is generally considered maladaptive, being most associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Cognitive Change

Cognitive change involves changing how one appraises a situation so as to alter its emotional meaning.

Reappraisal

Reappraisal, an example of cognitive change, is a late selection strategy, which involves a change of the meaning of an event that alters its emotional impact. It encompasses different substrategies, such as positive reappraisal (creating and focusing on a positive aspect of the stimulus), decentring (reinterpreting an event by broadening one’s perspective to see “the bigger picture”), or fictional reappraisal (adopting or emphasizing the belief that event is not real, that it is for instance “just a movie” or “just my imagination”). Reappraisal has been shown to effectively reduce physiological, subjective, and neural emotional responding. As opposed to distraction, individuals show a relative preference to engage in reappraisal when facing stimuli of low negative emotional intensity because these stimuli are relatively easy to appraise and process.

Reappraisal is generally considered to be an adaptive emotion regulation strategy. Compared to suppression (including both thought suppression and expressive suppression), which is positively correlated with many psychological disorders, reappraisal can be associated with better interpersonal outcomes, and can be positively related to well-being. However, some researchers argue that context is important when evaluating the adaptiveness of a strategy, suggesting that in some contexts reappraisal may be maladaptive. Furthermore, some research has shown reappraisal does not influence affect or physiological responses to recurrent stress.

Distancing

Distancing, an example of cognitive change, involves taking on an independent, third-person perspective when evaluating an emotional event. Distancing has been shown to be an adaptive form of self-reflection, facilitating the emotional processing of negatively valenced stimuli, reducing emotional and cardiovascular reactivity to negative stimuli, and increasing problem-solving behaviour.

Humour

Humour, an example of cognitive change, has been shown to be an effective emotion regulation strategy. Specifically, positive, good-natured humour has been shown to effectively up-regulate positive emotion and down-regulate negative emotion. On the other hand, negative, mean-spirited humour is less effective in this regard.

Response Modulation

Response modulation involves attempts to directly influence experiential, behavioural, and physiological response systems.

Expressive Suppression

Expressive suppression, an example of response modulation, involves inhibiting emotional expressions. It has been shown to effectively reduce facial expressivity, subjective feelings of positive emotion, heart rate, and sympathetic activation. However, the research findings are mixed regarding whether this strategy is effective for down-regulating negative emotion. Research has also shown that expressive suppression may have negative social consequences, correlating with reduced personal connections and greater difficulties forming relationships.

Expressive suppression is generally considered to be a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy. Compared to reappraisal, it is positively correlated with many psychological disorders, associated with worse interpersonal outcomes, is negatively related to well-being, and requires the mobilization of a relatively substantial amount of cognitive resources. However, some researchers argue that context is important when evaluating the adaptiveness of a strategy, suggesting that in some contexts suppression may be adaptive.

Drug Use

Drug use, an example of response modulation, can be used to alter emotion-associated physiological responses. For example, alcohol can produce sedative and anxiolytic effects and beta blockers can affect sympathetic activation.

Exercise

Exercise, an example of response modulation, can be used to down-regulate the physiological and experiential effects of negative emotions. Regular physical activity has also been shown to reduce emotional distress and improve emotional control.

Sleep

Sleep plays a role in emotion regulation, although stress and worry can also interfere with sleep. Studies have shown that sleep, specifically REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, down-regulates reactivity of the amygdala, a brain structure known to be involved in the processing of emotions, in response to previous emotional experiences. On the flip side, sleep deprivation is associated with greater emotional reactivity or overreaction to negative and stressful stimuli. This is a result of both increased amygdala activity and a disconnect between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, which regulates the amygdala through inhibition, together resulting in an overactive emotional brain. Due to the subsequent lack of emotional control, sleep deprivation may be associated with depression, impulsivity, and mood swings. Additionally, there is some evidence that sleep deprivation may reduce emotional reactivity to positive stimuli and events and impair emotion recognition in others.

In Psychotherapy

Emotion regulation strategies are taught, and emotion regulation problems are treated, in a variety of counselling and psychotherapy approaches, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

For example, a relevant mnemonic formulated in DBT is “ABC PLEASE”:

  • Accumulate positive experiences.
  • Build mastery by being active in activities that make one feel competent and effective to combat helplessness.
  • Cope ahead, preparing an action plan, researching, and rehearsing (with a skilled helper if necessary).
  • Physical illness treatment and prevention through checkups.
  • Low vulnerability to diseases, managed with health care professionals.
  • Eating healthy.
  • Avoiding (non-prescribed) mood-altering drugs.
  • Sleep healthy.
  • Exercise regularly.

Developmental Process

Infancy

Intrinsic emotion regulation efforts during infancy are believed to be guided primarily by innate physiological response systems. These systems usually manifest as an approach towards and an avoidance of pleasant or unpleasant stimuli. At three months, infants can engage in self-soothing behaviours like sucking and can reflexively respond to and signal feelings of distress. For instance, infants have been observed attempting to suppress anger or sadness by knitting their brow or compressing their lips. Between three and six months, basic motor functioning and attentional mechanisms begin to play a role in emotion regulation, allowing infants to more effectively approach or avoid emotionally relevant situations. Infants may also engage in self-distraction and help-seeking behaviours for regulatory purposes. At one year, infants are able to navigate their surroundings more actively and respond to emotional stimuli with greater flexibility due to improved motor skills. They also begin to appreciate their caregivers’ abilities to provide them regulatory support. For instance, infants generally have difficulties regulating fear. As a result, they often find ways to express fear in ways that attract the comfort and attention of caregivers.

Extrinsic emotion regulation efforts by caregivers, including situation selection, modification, and distraction, are particularly important for infants. The emotion regulation strategies employed by caregivers to attenuate distress or to up-regulate positive affect in infants can impact the infants’ emotional and behavioural development, teaching them particular strategies and methods of regulation. The type of attachment style between caregiver and infant can therefore play a meaningful role in the regulatory strategies infants may learn to use.

Recent evidence supports the idea that maternal singing has a positive effect on affect regulation in infants. Singing play-songs, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” or “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” have a visible affect-regulatory consequence of prolonged positive affect and even alleviation of distress. In addition to proven facilitation of social bonding, when combined with movement and/or rhythmic touch, maternal singing for affect regulation has possible applications for infants in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit) and for adult caregivers with serious personality or adjustment difficulties.

Toddler-Hood

By the end of the first year, toddlers begin to adopt new strategies to decrease negative arousal. These strategies can include rocking themselves, chewing on objects, or moving away from things that upset them. At two years, toddlers become more capable of actively employing emotion regulation strategies. They can apply certain emotion regulation tactics to influence various emotional states. Additionally, maturation of brain functioning and language and motor skills permits toddlers to manage their emotional responses and levels of arousal more effectively.

Extrinsic emotion regulation remains important to emotional development in toddlerhood. Toddlers can learn ways from their caregivers to control their emotions and behaviours. For example, caregivers help teach self-regulation methods by distracting children from unpleasant events (like a vaccination shot) or helping them understand frightening events.

Childhood

Emotion regulation knowledge becomes more substantial during childhood. For example, children aged six to ten begin to understand display rules. They come to appreciate the contexts in which certain emotional expressions are socially most appropriate and therefore ought to be regulated. For example, children may understand that upon receiving a gift they should display a smile, irrespective of their actual feelings about the gift. During childhood, there is also a trend towards the use of more cognitive emotion regulation strategies, taking the place of more basic distraction, approach, and avoidance tactics.

Regarding the development of emotion dysregulation in children, one robust finding suggests that children who are frequently exposed to negative emotion at home will be more likely to display, and have difficulties regulating, high levels of negative emotion.

Adolescence

Adolescents show a marked increase in their capacities to regulate their emotions, and emotion regulation decision making becomes more complex, depending on multiple factors. In particular, the significance of interpersonal outcomes increases for adolescents. When regulating their emotions, adolescents are therefore likely to take into account their social context. For instance, adolescents show a tendency to display more emotion if they expect a sympathetic response from their peers.

Additionally, spontaneous use of cognitive emotion regulation strategies increases during adolescence, which is evidenced both by self-report data and neural markers.

Adulthood

Social losses increase and health tends to decrease as people age. As people get older their motivation to seek emotional meaning in life through social ties tends to increase. Autonomic responsiveness decreases with age, and emotion regulation skill tends to increase.

Emotional regulation in adulthood can also be examined in terms of positive and negative affectivity. Positive and negative affectivity refers to the types of emotions felt by an individual as well as the way those emotions are expressed. With adulthood comes an increased ability to maintain both high positive affectivity and low negative affectivity “more rapidly than adolescents.” This response to life’s challenges seems to become “automatised” as people progress throughout adulthood. Thus, as individuals age, their capability of self-regulating emotions and responding to their emotions in healthy ways improves.

Additionally, emotional regulation may vary between young adults and older adults. Younger adults have been found to be more successful than older adults in practicing “cognitive reappraisal” to decrease negative internal emotions. On the other hand, older adults have been found to be more successful in the following emotional regulation areas:

  • Predicting the level of “emotional arousal” in possible situations.
  • Having a higher focus on positive information rather than negative.
  • Maintaining healthy levels of “hedonic well-being” (subjective well-being based on increased pleasure and decreased pain).

Overview of Perspectives

Neuropsychological Perspective

Affective

As people age, their affect – the way they react to emotions – changes, either positively or negatively. Studies show that positive affect increases as a person grows from adolescence to their mid 70s. Negative affect, on the other hand, decreases until the mid 70s. Studies also show that emotions differ in adulthood, particularly affect (positive or negative). Although some studies found that individuals experience less affect as they grow older, other studies have concluded that adults in their middle age experience more positive affect and less negative affect than younger adults. Positive affect was also higher for men than women while the negative affect was higher for women than it was for men and also for single people. A reason that older people – middle adulthood – might have less negative affect is because they have overcome, “the trials and vicissitudes of youth, they may increasingly experience a more pleasant balance of affect, at least up until their mid-70s”. Positive affect might rise during middle age but towards the later years of life – the 70s – it begins to decline while negative affect also does the same. This might be due to failing health, reaching the end of their lives and the death of friends and relatives.

In addition to baseline levels of positive and negative affect, studies have found individual differences in the time-course of emotional responses to stimuli. The temporal dynamics of emotion regulation, also known as affective chronometry, include two key variables in the emotional response process: rise time to peak emotional response, and recovery time to baseline levels of emotion. Studies of affective chronometry typically separate positive and negative affect into distinct categories, as previous research has shown (despite some correlation) the ability of humans to experience changes in these categories independently of one another. Affective chronometry research has been conducted on clinical populations with anxiety, mood, and personality disorders, but is also utilised as a measurement to test the effectiveness of different therapeutic techniques (including mindfulness training) on emotional dysregulation.

Neurological

The development of functional magnetic resonance imaging has allowed for the study of emotion regulation on a biological level. Specifically, research over the last decade strongly suggests that there is a neural basis. Sufficient evidence has correlated emotion regulation to particular patterns of prefrontal activation. These regions include the orbital prefrontal cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Two additional brain structures that have been found to contribute are the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex. Each of these structures are involved in various facets of emotion regulation and irregularities in one or more regions and/or interconnections among them are affiliated with failures of emotion regulation. An implication to these findings is that individual differences in prefrontal activation predict the ability to perform various tasks in aspects of emotion regulation.

Sociological

People intuitively mimic facial expressions; it is a fundamental part of healthy functioning. Similarities across cultures in regards to nonverbal communication has prompted the debate that it is in fact a universal language. It can be argued that emotion regulation plays a key role in the ability to generate the correct responses in social situations. Humans have control over facial expressions both consciously and unconsciously: an intrinsic emotion programme is generated as the result of a transaction with the world, which immediately results in an emotional response and usually a facial reaction. It is a well documented phenomenon that emotions have an effect on facial expression, but recent research has provided evidence that the opposite may also be true.

This notion would give rise to the belief that a person may not only control his emotion but in fact influence them as well. Emotion regulation focuses on providing the appropriate emotion in the appropriate circumstances. Some theories allude to the thought that each emotion serves a specific purpose in coordinating organismic needs with environmental demands. This skill, although apparent throughout all nationalities, has been shown to vary in successful application at different age groups. In experiments done comparing younger and older adults to the same unpleasant stimuli, older adults were able to regulate their emotional reactions in a way that seemed to avoid negative confrontation. These findings support the theory that with time people develop a better ability to regulate their emotions. This ability found in adults seems to better allow individuals to react in what would be considered a more appropriate manner in some social situations, permitting them to avoid adverse situations that could be seen as detrimental.

Expressive Regulation (In Solitary Conditions)

In solitary conditions, emotion regulation can include a minimisation-miniaturisation effect, in which common outward expressive patterns are replaced with toned down versions of expression. Unlike other situations, in which physical expression (and its regulation) serve a social purpose (i.e. conforming to display rules or revealing emotion to outsiders), solitary conditions require no reason for emotions to be outwardly expressed (although intense levels of emotion can bring out noticeable expression anyway). The idea behind this is that as people get older, they learn that the purpose of outward expression (to appeal to other people), is not necessary in situations in which there is no one to appeal to. As a result, the level of emotional expression can be lower in these solitary situations.

Stress

The way an individual reacts to stress can directly overlap with their ability to regulate emotion. Although the two concepts differ in a multitude of ways, “both coping [with stress] and emotion regulation involve affect modulation and appraisal processes” that are necessary for healthy relationships and self-identity.

According to Yu. V. Shcherbatykh, emotional stress in situations like school examinations can be reduced by engaging in self-regulating activities prior to the task being performed. To study the influence of self-regulation on mental and physiological processes under exam stress, Shcherbatykh conducted a test with an experimental group of 28 students (of both sexes) and a control group of 102 students (also of both sexes).

In the moments before the examination, situational stress levels were raised in both groups from what they were in quiet states. In the experimental group, participants engaged in three self-regulating techniques (concentration on respiration, general body relaxation, and the creation of a mental image of successfully passing the examination). During the examination, the anxiety levels of the experimental group were lower than that of the control group. Also, the percent of unsatisfactory marks in the experimental group was 1.7 times less than in the control group. From this data, Shcherbatykh concluded that the application of self-regulating actions before examinations helps to significantly reduce levels of emotional strain, which can help lead to better performance results.

Decision Making

Identification of our emotional self-regulating process can facilitate in the decision making process. Current literature on emotion regulation identifies that humans characteristically make efforts in controlling emotion experiences. There is then a possibility that our present state emotions can be altered by emotion regulation strategies resulting in the possibility that different regulation strategies could have different decision implications.

Effects of Low Self-Regulation

With a failure in emotion regulation, there is a rise in psychosocial and emotional dysfunctions caused by traumatic experiences due to an inability to regulate emotions. These traumatic experiences typically happen in grade school and are sometimes associated with bullying. Children who can not properly self-regulate express their volatile emotions in a variety of ways, including screaming if they don’t have their way, lashing out with their fists, throwing objects (such as chairs), or bullying other children. Such behaviours often elicit negative reactions from the social environment, which, in turn, can exacerbate or maintain the original regulation problems over time, a process termed cumulative continuity.

These children are more likely to have conflict-based relationships with their teachers and other children. This can lead to more severe problems such as an impaired ability to adjust to school and predicts school dropout many years later. Children who fail to properly self-regulate grow as teenagers with more emerging problems. Their peers begin to notice this “immaturity”, and these children are often excluded from social groups and teased and harassed by their peers. This “immaturity” certainly causes some teenagers to become social outcasts in their respective social groups, causing them to lash out in angry and potentially violent ways. Being teased or being an outcast in childhood is especially damaging because it could lead to psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety (in which dysregulated emotions play a central role), which, in turn, could lead to more peer victimisation. This is why it is recommended to foster emotional self-regulation in children as early as possible.

What is Emotional Detachment?

Introduction

In psychology, emotional detachment, also known as emotional blunting, has two meanings:

  • One is the inability to connect to others on an emotional level; and
  • The other is as a positive means of coping with anxiety.

This coping strategy, also known as emotion focused-coping, is used by avoiding certain situations that might trigger anxiety. It refers to the evasion of emotional connections. Emotional detachment may be a temporary reaction to a stressful situation, or a chronic condition such as depersonalisation-derealisation disorder. It may also be caused by certain antidepressants. Emotional blunting as reduced affect display is one of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Signs and Symptoms

Emotional detachment may not be as outwardly obvious as other psychiatric symptoms. Patients diagnosed with emotional detachment have reduced ability to express emotion, to empathise with others or to form powerful emotional connections. Patients are also at an increased risk for many anxiety and stress disorders. This can lead to difficulties in creating and maintaining personal relationships. The person may move elsewhere in their mind and appear preoccupied or “not entirely present”, or they may seem fully present but exhibit purely intellectual behaviour when emotional behaviour would be appropriate. They may have a hard time being a loving family member, or they may avoid activities, places, and people associated with past traumas. Their dissociation can lead to lack of attention and, hence, to memory problems and in extreme cases, amnesia. In some cases, they present an extreme difficulty in giving or receiving empathy which can be related to the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorder.

In children (ages 4-12 were studied), traits of aggression and antisocial behaviours were found to be correlated with emotional detachment. Researchers determined that these could be early signs of emotional detachment, suggesting parents and clinicians to evaluate children with these traits for a higher behavioural problem in order to avoid bigger problems (such as emotional detachment) in the future.

Causes

Emotional detachment and/or emotional blunting have multiple causes, as the cause can vary from person to person. Emotional detachment or emotional blunting often arises due to adverse childhood experiences, or to psychological trauma in adulthood.

Emotional blunting is often caused by antidepressants in particular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used in major depressive disorder, and often as an add-on treatment in other psychiatric disorders.

Behavioural Mechanism

Emotional detachment is a behaviour which allows a person to react calmly to highly emotional circumstances. Emotional detachment in this sense is a decision to avoid engaging emotional connections, rather than an inability or difficulty in doing so, typically for personal, social, or other reasons. In this sense it can allow people to maintain boundaries, psychic integrity and avoid undesired impact by or upon others, related to emotional demands. As such it is a deliberate mental attitude which avoids engaging the emotions of others.

This detachment does not necessarily mean avoiding empathy; rather, it allows the person to rationally choose whether or not to be overwhelmed or manipulated by such feelings. Examples where this is used in a positive sense might include emotional boundary management, where a person avoids emotional levels of engagement related to people who are in some way emotionally overly demanding, such as difficult co-workers or relatives, or is adopted to aid the person in helping others.

Emotional detachment can also be “emotional numbing”, “emotional blunting”, i.e., dissociation, depersonalisation or in its chronic form depersonalisation disorder. This type of emotional numbing or blunting is a disconnection from emotion, it is frequently used as a coping survival skill during traumatic childhood events such as abuse or severe neglect. Over time and with much use, this can become second nature when dealing with day to day stressors.

Emotional detachment may allow acts of extreme cruelty and abuse, supported by the decision to not connect empathically with the person concerned. Social ostracism, such as shunning and parental alienation, are other examples where decisions to shut out a person creates a psychological trauma for the shunned party.

What is Emotionality?

Introduction

Emotionality is the observable behavioural and physiological component of emotion. It is a measure of a person’s emotional reactivity to a stimulus.

Most of these responses can be observed by other people, while some emotional responses can only be observed by the person experiencing them. Observable responses to emotion (i.e. smiling) do not have a single meaning. A smile can be used to express happiness or anxiety, while a frown can communicate sadness or anger. Emotionality is often used by experimental psychology researchers to operationalise emotion in research studies.

Early Theories

By the late 1800s, many high-quality contributions became interested in analysing emotion because of the works of psychologists and scientists such as Wilhelm Wundt, George Stout, William McDougall, William James, and George Herbert Mead. William James preferred to focus on the physiological aspects of emotional response, although he did not disregard the perceptual or cognitive components. William McDougall thought of emotion as the articulation of a natural response built on instinct. Other psychologists reasoned that although gestures express emotion, this is not the entirety of their function. Wundt analysed that emotion portrays both expression and communication.

As Irrational

One of the oldest views of emotion is that emotion indicates inferiority. In early psychology, it was believed that passion (emotion) was a part of the soul inherited from the animals and that it must be controlled. Solomon identified that in the Romantic movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reason and emotion were discovered to be opposites.

As Physiological

Physiological responses to emotion originate in the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, and the endocrine system. Some of the responses include: heart rate, sweating, rate and depth of respiration, and electrical activity in the brain. Many researchers have attempted to find a connection between specific emotions and a corresponding pattern of physiological responses, but the results have been inconclusive.

Later Theories

The significant theories of emotion can be divided into three primary categories: physiological, neurological, and cognitive. Physiological theories imply that activity within the body can be accountable for emotions. Neurological theories suggest that activity within the brain leads to emotional responses. Lastly, cognitive theories reason that thoughts and other mental activity have a vital role in the stimulation of emotions. Common sense suggests that people first become consciously aware of their emotions and that the physiological responses follow shortly after. Theories by James-Lange, Cannon-Bard, and Schachter-Singer contradict the common-sense theory.

James-Lange

The James-Lange theory of emotion was proposed by psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange. This theory suggests that emotions occur as a result of physiological responses to outside stimuli or events. For example, this theory suggests that if someone is driving down the road and sees the headlights of another car heading toward them in their lane, their heart begins to race (a physiological response) and then they become afraid (fear being the emotion).

Cannon-Bard

The Cannon-Bard theory, which was conceptualized by Walter Cannon and Phillip Bard, suggests that emotions and their corresponding physiological responses are experienced simultaneously. Using the previous example, when someone sees the car coming toward them in their lane, their heart starts to race and they feel afraid at the same time.

Schachter-Singer

Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer proposed a theory also known as the two-factor theory of emotion, which implies emotion have two factors: physical arousal and cognitive label. This suggests that if the physiological activity occurs first, then it must cognitively be distinguished as the cause of the arousal and labelled as an emotion. Using the example of someone seeing a car coming towards them in their lane, their heart would start to race and they would identify that they must be afraid if their heart is racing, and from there they would begin to feel fear.

Gender Differences

The opposition of rational thought and emotion is believed to be paralleled by the similar opposition between male and female. A traditional view is that “men are seen as rational and women as emotional, lacking rationality.” However, in spite of these ideas, and in spite of gender differences in the prevalence of mood disorders, the empirical evidence on gender differences in emotional responding is mixed.

When engaging in social interaction, studies show that women smile significantly more than men do. It is difficult to determine the exact difference between males and females to explain this disparity. It is possible that this difference in expression of emotions is due to societal influences and conformity to gender roles. However, this may not fully explain why men smile less than women do.

The male gender role involves characteristics such as strength, expert knowledge, and a competitive nature. Smiling may be stereotypically associated with weakness. Men may feel that if they engage in this perceived weakness, it may contradict their attempts to show strength and other traits of the male gender role. Another broad explanation for the contrast in male and female gender expression is that women have reported to experience greater levels of emotional intensity than men, in both positive and negative aspects, which could naturally lead to greater emotional response. It has also been reported that men are more likely to confide in female companions, revealing their emotions and intimacy, while females are typically comfortable confiding in both genders. This suggests that men are more particular about how they express the emotions they feel, potentially relating back to gender roles.

Across Cultures

There are six universal emotions which expand across all cultures. These emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Debate exists about whether contempt should be combined with disgust. According to Ekman (1992), each of these emotions have universally corresponding facial expressions as well.

In addition to the facial expressions that are said to accompany each emotion, there is also evidence to suggest that certain autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity is associated with the three emotions of fear, anger, and disgust. Ekman theorizes that these specific emotions are associated with the universal physiological responses due to evolution. It would not be expected to observe the same physiological responses for emotions not specifically linked to survival, such as happiness or sadness.

Ekman’s theories were early challenged by James A. Russell, and have since been tested by a variety of researchers, with ambiguous results. This seems to reflect methodological problems relating to both display rules and to the components of emotion. Current thinking favours a mix of underlying universality combined with significant cultural differences in the articulation and expression of emotion. Emotions serve different functions in different cultures.

Positive

Positive emotionality is the ability to control positive mood and emotions, people with positive emotions seek for social reward. Positive emotionality can be a preventive factor in blocking out certain types of mental illness. In a study of a sample of 1,655 youth (54% girls; 7-16 years), it found that the higher their positive emotionality was, the lower their depression would be. Depression was considered by its definition of the inability to receive positive emotions or pleasure. The youth’s temperament, adaptive emotion regulation (ER) strategies, and depressive symptoms were determined through a questionnaire. The study also reported that depressive symptoms could be reduced through emotion regulation of positive mood. A study by Charles T. Taylor et al. linked being exposed to positive emotions before a surgery to less anxiety and a decrease in having symptoms after treatment.

Negative

Negative emotionality is the opposite of positive emotionality. People are unable to control their positive mood and emotions. Everyone experiences negative emotionality in different levels, there are different factors that effect each individual in a different way. Negative emotionality effects many aspects of our lives in terms of coping and the relationship that people share with one another. Neuroticism is one of the biggest factors found in negative emotionality. Someone on the higher spectrum of neuroticism is often more anxious and enjoy the feelings of their negative emotion. Some research suggests that obese children compared to children who are not obese have higher levels of negative emotionality and the ability to control emotions.

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Introduction

Emotional dysregulation is a term used in the mental health community that refers to emotional responses that are poorly modulated and do not lie within the accepted range of emotive response.

Refer to Emotional Self-Regulation.

Emotional dysregulation can be associated with an experience of early psychological trauma, brain injury, or chronic maltreatment (such as child abuse, child neglect, or institutional neglect/abuse), and associated disorders such as reactive attachment disorder. Emotional dysregulation may be present in people with psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. In such cases as borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, hypersensitivity to emotional stimuli causes a slower return to a normal emotional state. This is manifested biologically by deficits in the frontal cortices of the brain.

Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include extreme tearfulness, angry outbursts or behavioural outbursts such as destroying or throwing objects, aggression towards self or others, and threats to kill oneself. Emotional dysregulation can lead to behavioural problems and can interfere with a person’s social interactions and relationships at home, in school, or at place of employment.

Etymology

The word “dysregulation” is a neologism created by combining the prefix “dys-” to “regulation”. According to Webster’s Dictionary, dys- has various roots and is of Greek origin. With Latin and Greek roots, it is akin to Old English tō-, te- “apart” and in Sanskrit dus- “bad, difficult.” It is frequently confused with the spelling “disregulation” with the prefix “dis” meaning “the opposite of” or “absence of”.

Child psychopathology

There are links between child emotional dysregulation and later psychopathology. For instance, ADHD symptoms are associated with problems with emotional regulation, motivation, and arousal. One study found a connection between emotional dysregulation at 5 and 10 months, and parent-reported problems with anger and distress at 18 months. Low levels of emotional regulation behaviours at 5 months were also related to non-compliant behaviours at 30 months. While links have been found between emotional dysregulation and child psychopathology, the mechanisms behind how early emotional dysregulation and later psychopathology are related are not yet clear.

Symptoms

Smoking, self-harm, eating disorders, and addiction have all been associated with emotional dysregulation. Somatoform disorders may be caused by a decreased ability to regulate and experience emotions or an inability to express emotions in a positive way. Individuals who have difficulty regulating emotions are at risk for eating disorders and substance abuse as they use food or substances as a way to regulate their emotions. Emotional dysregulation is also found in people who have an increased risk of developing a mental disorder, in particularly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Early Childhood

Research has shown that failures in emotional regulation may be related to the display of acting out, externalizing disorders, or behaviour problems. When presented with challenging tasks, children who were found to have defects in emotional regulation (high-risk) spent less time attending to tasks and more time throwing tantrums or fretting than children without emotional regulation problems (low-risk). These high-risk children had difficulty with self-regulation and had difficulty complying with requests from caregivers and were more defiant. Emotional dysregulation has also been associated with childhood social withdrawal. Common signs of emotional dysregulation in early childhood include isolation, throwing things, screaming, lack of eye contact, refusing to speak, rocking, running away, crying, dissociating, high levels of anxiety, or inability to be flexible.

Internalising Behaviours

Emotional dysregulation in children can be associated with internalizing behaviours including:

  • Exhibiting emotions too intense for a situation.
  • Difficulty calming down when upset.
  • Difficulty decreasing negative emotions.
  • Being less able to calm themselves.
  • Difficulty understanding emotional experiences.
  • Becoming avoidant or aggressive when dealing with negative emotions.
  • Experiencing more negative emotions.

Externalising Behaviours

Emotional dysregulation in children can be associated with externalizing behaviours including:

  • Exhibiting more extreme emotions.
  • Difficulty identifying emotional cues.
  • Difficulty recognizing their own emotions.
  • Focusing on the negative.
  • Difficulty controlling their attention.
  • Being impulsive.
  • Difficulty decreasing their negative emotions.
  • Difficulty calming down when upset.

Protective Factors

Early experiences with caregivers can lead to differences in emotional regulation. The responsiveness of a caregiver to an infant’s signals can help an infant regulate their emotional systems. Caregiver interaction styles that overwhelm a child or that are unpredictable may undermine emotional regulation development. Effective strategies involve working with a child to support developing self-control such as modelling a desired behaviour rather than demanding it.

The richness of an environment that a child is exposed to helps the development of emotional regulation. An environment must provide appropriate levels of freedom and constraint. The environment must allow opportunities for a child to practice self-regulation. An environment with opportunities to practice social skills without over-stimulation or excessive frustration helps a child develop self-regulation skills.

Emotional Dysregulation and Substance Use

Several variables have been explored to explain the connection between emotional dysregulation and substance use in young adults, such as child maltreatment, cortisol levels, family environment, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Vilhena-Churchill and Goldstein (2014) explored the association between childhood maltreatment and emotional dysregulation. More severe childhood maltreatment was found to be associated with an increase in difficulty regulating emotion, which in turn was associated with a greater likelihood of coping by using marijuana. Kliewer et al. (2016) performed a study on the relationship between negative family emotional climate, emotional dysregulation, blunted anticipatory cortisol, and substance use in adolescents. Increased negative family emotional climate was found to be associated with high levels of emotional dysregulation, which was then associated with increased substance use. Girls were seen to have blunted anticipatory cortisol levels, which was also associated with an increase in substance use. Childhood events and family climate with emotional dysregulation are both factors seemingly linked to substance use. Prosek, Giordano, Woehler, Price, and McCullough (2018) explored the relationship between mental health and emotional regulation in collegiate illicit substance users. Illicit drug users reported higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Emotional dysregulation was more prominent in illicit drug users in the sense that they had less clarity and were less aware of their emotions when the emotions were occurring.

Treatment

While cognitive behavioural therapy is the most widely prescribed treatment for such psychiatric disorders, a commonly prescribed psychotherapeutic treatment for emotional dysregulation is dialectical behavioural therapy, a psychotherapy which promotes the use of mindfulness, a concept called dialectics, and emphasizes the importance of validation and maintaining healthy behavioural habits.

When diagnosed as being part of ADHD, norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and atomoxetine are often used.

References

Kliewer, W., Riley, T., Zaharakis, N., Borre, A., Drazdowski, T.K. & Jäggi, L. (2016) Emotion Dysregulation, Anticipatory Cortisol, and Substance Use in Urban Adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences. 99, pp.200-205. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.05.011. PMC 5082236. PMID 27795602.

Prosek, E.A., Giordano, A.L., Woehler, E.S., Price, E. & McCullough, R. (2018) Differences in Emotion Dysregulation and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety among Illicit Substance Users and Nonusers. Substance Use & Misuse. 53(11), pp.1915-1918. doi:10.1080/10826084.2018.1436563. PMID 29465278. S2CID 3411848.

Vilhena-Churchill, N. & Goldstein, A.L. (2014) Child Maltreatment and Marijuana Problems in Young Adults: Examining the Role of Motives and Emotion Dysregulation. Child Abuse & Neglect. 38(5), pp.962-972. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.10.009. PMID 24268374.

What is Affective Neuroscience?

Introduction

Affective neuroscience is the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion.

This interdisciplinary field combines neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood. The putative existence of ‘basic emotions’ and their defining attributes represents a long lasting and yet unsettled issue in the field.

The term was coined by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, at a time when cognitive neuroscience focused on non-emotional cognition, such as attention or memory.

Brain Areas

Emotions are thought to be related to activity in brain areas that direct our attention, motivate our behaviour, and choose the significance of what is going on around us. Pioneering work by Paul Broca (1878), James Papez (1937), and Paul D. MacLean (1952) suggested that emotion is related to a group of structures in the centre of the brain called the limbic system, which includes the hypothalamus, cingulate cortex, hippocampi, and other structures. Research has shown that limbic structures are directly related to emotion, but other structures have been found to be of greater emotional relevance.

The following brain structures are currently thought to be involved in emotion:

Limbic System

  • Amygdala:
    • The amygdalae are two small, round structures located anterior to the hippocampi near the temporal poles.
    • The amygdalae are involved in detecting and learning which parts of our surroundings are important and have emotional significance.
    • They are critical for the production of emotion, and may be particularly so for negative emotions, especially fear.
    • Multiple studies have shown amygdala activation when perceiving a potential threat; various circuits allow the amygdala to use related past memories to better judge the possible threat.
  • Thalamus:
    • The thalamus is involved in relaying sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, especially visual stimuli.
    • The thalamus plays an important role in regulating states of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Hypothalamus:
    • The hypothalamus is involved in producing a physical output associated with an emotion as well as in reward circuits.
  • Hippocampus:
    • The hippocampus is a structure of the medial temporal lobes that is mainly involved in memory.
    • It works to form new memories and also connects senses such as visual input, smell or sound to memories.
    • The hippocampus allows long term memories to be stored and retrieves them when necessary.
    • Memories are used within the amygdala to help evaluate stimulae.
  • Fornix:
    • The fornix is the main output pathway from the hippocampus to the mammillary bodies.
    • It has been identified as a main region in controlling spatial memory functions, episodic memory and executive functions.
  • Mammillary body:
    • Mammillary bodies are important for recollective memory.
  • Olfactory bulb:
    • The olfactory bulbs are the first cranial nerves, located on the ventral side of the frontal lobe.
    • They are involved in olfaction, the perception of odours.
  • Cingulate gyrus:
    • The cingulate gyrus is located above the corpus callosum and is usually considered to be part of the limbic system.
    • The parts of the cingulate gyrus have different functions, and are involved with affect, visceromotor control, response selection, skeletomotor control, visuospatial processing, and in memory access.
    • A part of the cingulate gyrus is the anterior cingulate cortex, which is thought to play a central role in attention and behaviourally demanding cognitive tasks.
    • It may be particularly important with regard to conscious, subjective emotional awareness.
    • This region of the brain may play an important role in the initiation of motivated behaviour.
    • The subgenual cingulate is more active during both experimentally induced sadness and during depressive episodes.

Other Brain Structures

  • Basal ganglia:
    • Basal ganglia are groups of nuclei found on either side of the thalamus.
    • Basal ganglia play an important role in motivation, action selection and reward learning.
  • Orbitofrontal cortex:
    • The orbitofrontal cortex is a major structure involved in decision making and the influence by emotion on that decision.
  • Prefrontal cortex:
    • The prefrontal cortex is the front of the brain, behind the forehead and above the eyes.
    • It appears to play a critical role in the regulation of emotion and behaviour by anticipating consequences.
    • It may play an important role in delayed gratification by maintaining emotions over time and organising behaviour toward specific goals.
  • Ventral striatum:
    • The ventral striatum is a group of subcortical structures thought to play an important role in emotion and behaviour.
    • One part of the ventral striatum called the nucleus accumbens is thought to be involved in the experience of pleasure.
    • Individuals with addictions experience increased activity in this area when they encounter the object of their addiction.
  • Insula:
    • The insular cortex is thought to play a critical role in the bodily experience of emotion, as it is connected to other brain structures that regulate the body’s autonomic functions (heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc.).
    • The insula is implicated in empathy and awareness of emotion.
  • Cerebellum:
    • A “Cerebellar Cognitive Affective Syndrome” has been described.
    • Both neuroimaging studies as well as studies following pathological cerebellar lesions (such as a stroke) demonstrate that the cerebellum has a significant role in emotional regulation.
    • Lesion studies have shown that cerebellar dysfunction can attenuate the experience of positive emotions.
    • While these same studies do not show an attenuated response to frightening stimuli, the stimuli did not recruit structures that normally would be activated (such as the amygdala).
    • Rather, alternative structures were activated, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate gyrus, and the insula.
    • This may indicate that evolutionary pressure resulted in the development of the cerebellum as a redundant fear-mediating circuit to enhance survival.
    • It may also indicate a regulatory role for the cerebellum in the neural response to rewarding stimuli, such as money, drugs of abuse, and orgasm.
  • Lateral prefrontal cortex.
  • Primary sensorimotor cortex.
  • Temporal cortex.
  • Brainstem.

Right Hemisphere

The right hemisphere has been proposed as directly involved in emotion processing. Scientific theory regarding its role produced several models of emotional functioning. C.K. Mills was an early researcher who proposed a direct link between the right hemisphere and emotion processing, having observed decreased emotion processing in patients with lesions to the right hemisphere. In the late 1980s to early 1990s neocortical structures were shown to have an involvement in emotion. These findings led to the development of the right hemisphere hypothesis and the valence hypothesis.

Right Hemisphere Hypothesis

The right hemisphere hypothesis asserts that the right hemisphere is specialized for the expression and perception of emotion. It has been linked with mental strategies that are nonverbal, synthetic, integrative, holistic, and gestaltic. The right hemisphere is more in touch with subcortical systems of autonomic arousal and attention as demonstrated in patients that have increased spatial neglect when damage affects the right brain versus the left brain. Right hemisphere pathologies have been linked with abnormal patterns of autonomic nervous system responses. These findings would help signify the strong connection of the subcortical brain regions to the right hemisphere.

Valence Hypothesis

The valence hypothesis acknowledges the right hemisphere’s role in emotion, but asserts that it is mainly focused on the processing of negative emotions whereas the left hemisphere processes positive emotions. The two hemispheres have been the subject of much debate. One version states that the right hemisphere processes negative emotion leaving positive emotion to the left brain. A second version suggests that the right hemisphere predominates in experiencing both positive and negative emotion. More recently, the frontal lobe has been the focus of research, asserting that the frontal lobes of both hemispheres are involved in emotions, while the parietal and temporal lobes are involved in the processing of emotion. Decreased right parietal lobe activity has been associated with depression and increased right parietal lobe activity with anxiety arousal. The increasing understanding of the different hemispheres has led to increasingly complicated models, all based on the original valence model.

Cognitive Neuroscience

Despite their interactions, the study of cognition until the late 1990s, excluded emotion and focused on non-emotional processes (e.g. memory, attention, perception, action, problem solving and mental imagery). The study of the neural basis of non-emotional and emotional processes emerged as two separate fields: cognitive neuroscience and affective neuroscience. Emotional and non-emotional processes often involve overlapping neural and mental mechanisms.

Cognitive Neuroscience Tasks in Affective Neuroscience Research

Emotion Go/No-Go

The emotion go/no-go task has been used to study behavioural inhibition, particularly emotional modulation of this inhibition. A derivation of the original go/no-go paradigm, this task involves a combination of affective “go cues”, where the participant must rapidly make a motor response, and affective “no-go cues,” where a response must be withheld. Because “go cues” are more common, the task measures a subject’s ability to inhibit a response under different emotional conditions.

The task is common in tests of emotion regulation, and is often paired with neuroimaging measures to localize relevant brain function in both healthy individuals and those with affective disorders. For example, go/no-go studies converge with other methodology to implicate areas of the prefrontal cortex during inhibition of emotionally valenced stimuli.

Emotional Stroop

The emotional Stroop task, an adaptation to the original Stroop, measures attentional bias to emotional stimuli. Participants must name the ink colour of presented words while ignoring the words’ meanings. In general, participants have more difficulty detaching attention from affectively valenced words, than neutral words. This interference from valenced words is measured by the response latency in naming the colour of neutral words as compared with emotional words.

This task has been often used to test selective attention to threatening and other negatively valenced stimuli, most often in relation to psychopathology. Disorder-specific attentional biases have been found for a variety of mental disorders. For example, participants with spider phobia show a bias to spider-related words but not other negatively valenced words. Similar findings have been attributed to threat words related to other anxiety disorders. However, other studies have questioned these findings. In fact, anxious participants in some studies show the Stroop interference effect for both negative and positive words, when the words are matched for emotionality. This means that the specificity effects for various disorders may be largely attributable to the semantic relation of the words to the concerns of the disorder, rather than their emotionality.

Ekman 60 Faces Task

The Ekman faces task is used to measure emotion recognition of six basic emotions. Black and white photographs of 10 actors (6 male, 4 female) are presented, with each actor displaying each emotion. Participants are usually asked to respond quickly with the name of the displayed emotion. The task is a common tool to study deficits in emotion regulation in patients with dementia, Parkinson’s, and other cognitively degenerative disorders. The task has been used to analyse recognition errors in disorders such as borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Dot Probe (Emotion)

The emotional dot-probe paradigm is a task used to assess selective visual attention to and failure to detach attention from affective stimuli. The paradigm begins with a fixation cross at the centre of a screen. An emotional stimulus and a neutral stimulus appear side by side, after which a dot appears behind either the neutral stimulus (incongruent condition) or the affective stimulus (congruent condition). Participants are asked to indicate when they see this dot, and response latency is measured. Dots that appear on the same side of the screen as the image the participant was looking at will be identified more quickly. Thus, it is possible to discern which object the participant was attending to by subtracting the reaction time to respond to congruent versus incongruent trials.

The best documented research with the dot probe paradigm involves attention to threat related stimuli, such as fearful faces, in individuals with anxiety disorders. Anxious individuals tend to respond more quickly to congruent trials, which may indicate vigilance to threat and/or failure to detach attention from threatening stimuli. A specificity effect of attention has also been noted, with individuals attending selectively to threats related to their particular disorder. For example, those with social phobia selectively attend to social threats but not physical threats. However, this specificity may be even more nuanced. Participants with obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms initially show attentional bias to compulsive threat, but this bias is attenuated in later trials due to habituation to the threat stimuli.

Fear Potentiated Startle

Fear-potentiated startle (FPS) has been utilised as a psychophysiological index of fear reaction in both animals and humans. FPS is most often assessed through the magnitude of the eyeblink startle reflex, which can be measured by electromyography. This eyeblink reflex is an automatic defensive reaction to an abrupt elicitor, making it an objective indicator of fear. Typical FPS paradigms involve bursts of noise or abrupt flashes of light transmitted while an individual attends to a set of stimuli. Startle reflexes have been shown to be modulated by emotion. For example, healthy participants tend to show enhanced startle responses while viewing negatively valenced images and attenuated startle while viewing positively valenced images, as compared with neutral images.

The startle response to a particular stimulus is greater under conditions of threat. A common example given to indicate this phenomenon is that one’s startle response to a flash of light will be greater when walking in a dangerous neighbourhood at night than it would under safer conditions. In laboratory studies, the threat of receiving shock is enough to potentiate startle, even without any actual shock.

Fear potentiated startle paradigms are often used to study fear learning and extinction in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. In fear conditioning studies, an initially neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with an aversive one, borrowing from classical conditioning. FPS studies have demonstrated that post-traumatic stress disorder patients have enhanced startle responses during both danger cues and neutral/safety cues as compared with healthy participants.

Learning

Affect plays many roles during learning. Deep, emotional attachment to a subject area allows a deeper understanding of the material and therefore, learning occurs and lasts. The emotions evoked when reading in comparison to the emotions portrayed in the content affects comprehension. Someone who is feeling sad understands a sad passage better than someone feeling happy. Therefore, a student’s emotion plays an important role during the learning process.

Emotion can be embodied or perceived from words read on a page or in a facial expression. Neuroimaging studies using fMRI have demonstrated that the same area of the brain that is activated when feeling disgust is activated when observing another’s disgust. In a traditional learning environment, the teacher’s facial expression can play a critical role in language acquisition. Showing a fearful facial expression when reading passages that contain fearful tones facilitates students learning of the meaning of certain vocabulary words and comprehension of the passage.

Models

The neurobiological basis of emotion is still disputed. The existence of basic emotions and their defining attributes represents a long lasting and yet unsettled issue in psychology. The available research suggests that the neurobiological existence of basic emotions is still tenable and heuristically seminal, pending some reformulation.

Basic Emotions

These approaches hypothesize that emotion categories (including happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust) are biologically basic. In this view, emotions are inherited, biologically based modules that cannot be separated into more basic psychological components. Models following this approach hypothesize that all mental states belonging to a single emotional category can be consistently and specifically localised to either a single brain region or a defined network of brain regions. Each basic emotion category also shares other universal characteristics: distinct facial behaviour, physiology, subjective experience and accompanying thoughts and memories.

Psychological Constructionist Approaches

This approach to emotion hypothesizes that emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, anger and disgust (and many others) are constructed mental states that occur when brain systems work together. In this view, networks of brain regions underlie psychological operations (e.g. language, attention, etc.) that interact to produce emotion, perception, and cognition. One psychological operation critical for emotion is the network of brain regions that underlie valence (feeling pleasant/unpleasant) and arousal (feeling activated and energised). Emotions emerge when neural systems underlying different psychological operations interact (not just those involved in valence and arousal), producing distributed patterns of activation across the brain. Because emotions emerge from more basic components, heterogeneity affects each emotion category; for example, a person can experience many different kinds of fear, which feel differently, and which correspond to different neural patterns in the brain.

Meta-Analyses

A meta-analysis is a statistical approach to synthesizing results across multiple studies. Included studies investigated healthy, unmedicated adults and that used subtraction analysis to examine brain areas that were more active during emotional processing than during a neutral (control) condition.

Phan et al. 2002

In the first neuroimaging meta-analysis of emotion, Phan et al. (2002) analysed the results of 55 peer reviewed studies between January 1990 and December 2000 to determine if the emotions of fear, sadness, disgust, anger, and happiness were consistently associated with activity in specific brain regions. All studies used fMRI or PET techniques to investigate higher-order mental processing of emotion (studies of low-order sensory or motor processes were excluded). The authors’ tabulated the number of studies that reported activation in specific brain regions. For each brain region, statistical chi-squared analysis was conducted. Two regions showed a statistically significant association. In the amygdala, 66% of studies inducing fear reported activity in this region, as compared to ~20% of studies inducing happiness, ~15% of studies inducing sadness (with no reported activations for anger or disgust). In the subcallosal cingulate, 46% of studies inducing sadness reported activity in this region, as compared to ~20% inducing happiness and ~20% inducing anger. This pattern of clear discriminability between emotion categories was in fact rare, with other patterns occurring in limbic regions, paralimbic regions, and uni/heteromodal regions. Brain regions implicated across discrete emotion included the basal ganglia (~60% of studies inducing happiness and ~60% of studies inducing disgust reported activity in this region) and medial prefrontal cortex (happiness ~60%, anger ~55%, sadness ~40%, disgust ~40%, and fear ~30%).

Murphy et al. 2003

Murphy, et al. 2003 analysed 106 peer reviewed studies published between January 1994 and December 2001 to examine the evidence for regional specialisation of discrete emotions (fear, disgust, anger, happiness and sadness) across a larger set of studies. Studies included in the meta-analysis measured activity in the whole brain and regions of interest (activity in individual regions of particular interest to the study). 3-D Kolmogorov-Smirnov (KS3) statistics were used to compare rough spatial distributions of 3-D activation patterns to determine if statistically significant activations were specific to particular brain regions for all emotional categories. This pattern of consistently activated, regionally specific activations was identified in four brain regions: amygdala with fear (~40% of studies), insula with disgust (~70%), globus pallidus with disgust (~70%), and lateral orbitofrontal cortex with anger (80%). Other regions showed different patterns of activation across categories. For example, both the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex showed consistent activity across emotions (happiness ~50%, sadness ~50%, anger ~ 40%, fear ~30%, and disgust ~ 20%).

Barrett et al. 2006

Barrett, et al. 2006 examined 161 studies published between 1990 and 2001. The authors compared the consistency and specificity of prior meta-analytic findings specific to each notional basic emotion. Consistent neural patterns were defined by brain regions showing increased activity for a specific emotion (relative to a neutral control condition), regardless of the method of induction used (for example, visual vs. auditory cue). Specific neural patterns were defined as separate circuits for one emotion vs. the other emotions (for example, the fear circuit must be discriminable from the anger circuit, although both may include common brain regions). In general, the results supported Phan et al. and Murphy et al., but not specificity. Consistency was determined through the comparison of chi-squared analyses that revealed whether the proportion of studies reporting activation during one emotion was significantly higher than the proportion of studies reporting activation during the other emotions. Specificity was determined through the comparison of emotion-category brain-localizations by contrasting activations in key regions that were specific to particular emotions. Increased amygdala activation during fear was the most consistently reported across induction methods (but not specific). Both meta-analyses associated the anterior cingulate cortex with sadness, although this finding was less consistent (across induction methods) and was not specific. Both meta-analyses found that disgust was associated with the basal ganglia, but these findings were neither consistent nor specific. Neither consistent nor specific activity was observed across the meta-analyses for anger or happiness. This meta-analysis introduced the concept of the basic, irreducible elements of emotional life as dimensions such as approach and avoidance.

Kober et al. 2008

Kober, et al. 2008 reviewed 162 neuroimaging studies published between 1990-2005 to determine if groups of brain regions showed consistent activation patterns while experiencing an emotion directly and (indirectly) as experienced by another. This analysis used multilevel kernel density analysis (MKDA) to examine fMRI and PET studies, a technique that prevents single studies from dominating the results (particularly if they report multiple nearby peaks) and that enables studies involving more participants to exert more influence upon the results. MKDA was used to establish a neural reference space that includes the set of regions showing consistent increases across all studies. This neural reference space was partitioned into functional groups of brain regions showing similar activation patterns by using multivariate techniques to determine co-activation patterns and then using data-reduction techniques to define the functional groupings, resulting in six groups. The authors discussed each functional group in terms of more basic psychological operations.

GroupRegionsNotes
Core LimbicLeft amygdala, hypothalamus, periaqueductal gray/thalamus regions, and amygdala/ventral striatum/ventral globus pallidus/thalamus regions.Integrative emotional centre that plays a general role in evaluating affective significance.
Lateral ParalimbicVentral anterior insula/frontal operculum/right temporal pole/ posterior orbitofrontal cortex, the anterior insula/ posterior orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral anterior insula/ temporal cortex/ orbitofrontal cortex junction, the midinsula/ dorsal putamen, and the ventral striatum /mid insula/ left hippocampus.Plays a role in motivation, contributing to the general valuation of stimuli and particularly in reward.
Medial Prefrontal CortexDorsal medial prefrontal cortex, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, and rostral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.Plays a role in both the generation and regulation of emotion.
Cognitive/ Motor NetworkRight frontal operculum, the right interior frontal gyrus, and the pre-supplementray motor area/ left interior frontal gyrus, regions.Not specific to emotion, but instead appear to play a more general role in information processing and cognitive control.
Occipital/ Visual AssociationV8 and V4 areas of the primary visual cortex, the medial temporal lobe, and the lateral occipital cortex.
Medial PosteriorPosterior cingulate cortex and area V1 of the primary visual cortex.

The authors suggest that these regions play a joint role in visual processing and attention to emotional stimuli.

Vytal et al. 2010

Vytal, et al. 2010 examined 83 neuroimaging studies published between 1993-2008 to examine whether neuroimaging evidence supports biologically discrete, basic emotions (i.e. fear, anger, disgust, happiness, and sadness). Consistency analyses identified brain regions associated with individual emotions. Discriminability analyses identified brain regions that were differentially active under contrasting pairs of emotions. This meta-analysis examined PET or fMRI studies that reported whole brain analyses identifying significant activations for at least one of the five emotions relative to a neutral or control condition. The authors used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) to perform spatially sensitive, voxel-wise (sensitive to the spatial properties of voxels) statistical comparisons across studies. This technique allows for direct statistical comparison between activation maps associated with each discrete emotion. Thus, discriminability between the five discrete emotion categories was assessed on a more precise spatial scale than in prior meta-analyses.

Consistency was first assessed by comparing the cross-study ALE map for each emotion to ALE maps generated by random permutations. Discriminability was assessed by pair-wise contrasts of emotion maps. Consistent and discriminable activation patterns were observed for the five categories.

EmotionPeakRegions
HappinessRight superior temporal gyrus, left rostral anterior cingulate cortex.9 regional brain clusters.
SadnessLeft medial frontal gyrus.35 clusters – especially, left medial frontal gyrus, right middle temporal gyrus, and right inferior frontal gyrus.
AngerLeft inferior frontal gyrus.13 clusters – bilateral inferior frontal gyrus, and in right parahippocampal gyrus.
FearLeft amygdala.11 clusters – left amygdala and left putamen.
DisgustRight insula/right inferior frontal gyrus.16 clusters – right putamen and the left insula.

Lindquist et al. 2012

Lindquist, et al. reviewed 91 PET and fMRI studies published between January 1990 and December 2007. The studies used induction methods that elicit emotion experience or emotion perception of fear, sadness, disgust, anger, and happiness. The goal was to compare basic emotions approaches with psychological constructionist approaches. A MKDA transformed the individual peak into a neural reference space. The density analysis was then used to identify voxels with more consistent activations for a specific emotion category than all other emotions. Chi-squared analysis was used to create statistical maps that indicated whether each previously identified and consistently active region was more frequently activated in studies of each emotion category than average, regardless of activations elsewhere in the brain. Chi-squared analysis and density analysis both defined functionally consistent and selective regions (regions that showed a more consistent activity increase) for one emotion category. Thus, a selective region could present increased activations to multiple emotions, as long as the response to one emotion was relatively stronger.

A series of logistic regressions were performed to identify regions that while consistent and selective to an emotion were additionally specific to that emotion. Specificity was defined as showing increased activations for only one emotional category. Strong support for basic emotions was defined as evidence that brain areas respond to only one emotional category. Strong support for the constructionist approach was defined as evidence that psychological operations consistently occur across many brain regions and multiple emotional categories.

The results indicated that many brain regions demonstrated consistent and selective activations in the experience or perception of one emotion category. Consistent with constructionist models, however, no region demonstrated functional specificity for the emotions of fear, disgust, happiness, sadness or anger.

The authors proposed different roles for the brain regions that have traditionally been associated with only one emotion category. The authors propose that the amygdala, anterior insula, orbitofrontal cortex each contribute to “core affect,” which are basic feelings that are pleasant or unpleasant with some level of arousal.

RegionRole
AmygdalaIndicating whether external sensory information is motivationally salient, novel and/or evokes uncertainty.
Anterior InsulaRepresents core affective feelings in awareness across emotion categories, driven largely by body sensations.
Orbitofrontal CortexFunctions as a site for integrating sensory information from the body and the world to guide behaviour.

Closely related to core affect, the authors propose that the anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex play vital roles in attention. The anterior cingulate supports the use of sensory information for directing attention and motor responses during response selection while the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex supporting executive attention. In many psychological construction approaches, emotions relate an individual’s situation in the world to internal body states, referred to as “conceptualisation”. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus were consistently active in this context: regions that play an important role conceptualising are also involved in simulating previous experience (e.g. knowledge, memory). Language is also central to conceptualising, and regions that support language, including ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, were also consistently active across studies of emotion experience and perception.

Book: The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook

Book Title:

The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance.

Author(s): Matthew McKay and Jeffrey C. Wood.

Year: 2019.

Edition: Second (2nd).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

A clear and effective approach to learning evidence-based DBT skills-now in a fully revised and updated second edition.

Do you have trouble managing your emotions? First developed by Marsha M. Linehan for treating borderline personality disorder, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has proven effective as treatment for a range of other mental health problems, and can greatly improve your ability to handle distress without losing control and acting destructively.

However, to make use of these techniques, you need to build skills in four key areas: distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, a collaborative effort from three esteemed authors, offers
evidence-based, step-by-step exercises for learning these concepts and putting them to work for real and lasting change. Start by working on the introductory exercises and, after making progress, move on to the advanced-skills chapters.
Whether you’re a mental health professional or a general reader, you’ll benefit from this clear and practical guide to better managing your emotions.

This fully revised and updated second edition also includes new chapters on cognitive rehearsal, distress tolerance, and self-compassion. Once you have completed the exercises in this book and are ready to move on to the next level, check out the authors’ new book, The New Happiness Workbook.

Book: Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder

Book Title:

Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Disorders).

Author(s): Marsha M. Linehan.

Year: 1993.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Guildford Press.

Type(s): Hardcover and Kindle.

Synopsis:

For the average clinician, individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often represent the most challenging, seemingly insoluble cases. This volume is the authoritative presentation of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), Marsha M. Linehan’s comprehensive, integrated approach to treating individuals with BPD. DBT was the first psychotherapy shown in controlled trials to be effective with BPD. It has since been adapted and tested for a wide range of other difficult-to-treat disorders involving emotion dysregulation. While focusing on BPD, this book is essential reading for clinicians delivering DBT to any clients with complex, multiple problems.

Companion volumes: The latest developments in DBT skills training, together with essential materials for teaching the full range of mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance skills, are presented in Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, and DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition. Also available: Linehan’s instructive skills training videos for clients – Crisis Survival Skills: Part One, Crisis Survival Skills: Part Two, From Suffering to Freedom, This One Moment, and Opposite Action.

Book: Pocket Therapy for Emotional Balance

Book Title:

Pocket Therapy for Emotional Balance: Quick DBT Skills to Manage Intense Emotions (New Harbinger Pocket Therapy).

Author(s): Matthew McKay (PhD), Jeffrey C. Wood (PSyd), and Jeffrey Brantley (MD).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

In Pocket Therapy for Emotional Balance, three clinical psychologists and authors of The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook offer quick, evidence-based tips and tools for managing intense emotions in the moment. Using this handy, take-anywhere guide, readers will find freedom from overwhelming thoughts and feelings, find a sense of calm, and live a more balanced life.

Bite-sized, evidence based tips and tools for managing intense emotions in the moment-from the authors of The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook! Sometimes emotions can feel like a big, powerful tidal wave that will sweep you away. And the more you try to suppress or put a lid on these emotions, the more overwhelming they get. So, how can you feel better when difficult emotions threaten to wash over you?

In this take-anywhere pocket guide, clinical psychologists and authors Matt McKay, Jeffrey Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley offer quick and simple strategies based in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) to help you take charge of your emotions and start living the life you want. Using this handy little book, you’ll find freedom from overwhelming thoughts and feelings, discover a sense of lasting calm, improve your relationships, and feel more at peace with the world and yourself. If you are looking for small, easy ways to manage your emotions on the go, put this compact guide in your coat pocket, your purse, on your nightstand, or anywhere for quick and soothing relief.

Book: Parenting Children with Mental Health Challenges

Book Title:

Parenting Children with Mental Health Challenges: A Guide to Life with Emotionally Complex Kids.

Author(s): Deborah Vlock.

Year: 2018.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Illustrated Edition.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Parenting Children with Mental Health Challenges: A Guide to Life with Emotionally Complex Kids offers overwhelmed readers guidance, solidarity, and hope. The author, a “mental-health mom” who’s survived indignity, exhaustion, and the heartbreak of loving a child with multiple mental-health disorders, writes with frankness and occasional humour about the hardest parenting job on earth.

Drawing on her own experiences and those of other parents, plus tips from mental health professionals, Vlock suggests ways of parenting smarter, partnering better, and living more fully and less fearfully in the shadow of childhood psychiatric illness.

Addressing the many hurdles children and families must face, including life on the home front, school, friendships and relationships, and more, the book shows readers that they are not alone-and they are stronger than they think. With its combination of easily digestible, to-the-point suggestions, clear action items, and first-person parent/kid stories, its aim is to make mental-health parents feel stronger and better, while actively seeking positive outcomes for their kids and families.

With rates of mental health diagnoses among youth on the rise, this invaluable resource will help parents through the trying times with support, understanding, and guidance.

What is Emotion?

Introduction

Emotions are biological states associated with the nervous system brought on by neurophysiological changes variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or displeasure. There is currently no scientific consensus on a definition. Emotions are often intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, creativity, and motivation.

Research on emotion has increased significantly over the past two decades with many fields contributing including psychology, neuroscience, affective neuroscience, endocrinology, medicine, history, sociology of emotions, and computer science. The numerous theories that attempt to explain the origin, neurobiology, experience, and function of emotions have only fostered more intense research on this topic. Current areas of research in the concept of emotion include the development of materials that stimulate and elicit emotion. In addition, positron emission tomography (PET) scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans help study the affective picture processes in the brain.

From a purely mechanistic perspective, emotions can be defined as “a positive or negative experience that is associated with a particular pattern of physiological activity.” Emotions produce different physiological, behavioural and cognitive changes. The original role of emotions was to motivate adaptive behaviours that in the past would have contributed to the passing on of genes through survival, reproduction, and kin selection.

In some theories, cognition is an important aspect of emotion. For those who act primarily on emotions, they may assume that they are not thinking, but mental processes involving cognition are still essential, particularly in the interpretation of events. For example, the realisation of our believing that we are in a dangerous situation and the subsequent arousal of our body’s nervous system (rapid heartbeat and breathing, sweating, muscle tension) is integral to the experience of our feeling afraid. Other theories, however, claim that emotion is separate from and can precede cognition. Consciously experiencing an emotion is exhibiting a mental representation of that emotion from a past or hypothetical experience, which is linked back to a content state of pleasure or displeasure. The content states are established by verbal explanations of experiences, describing an internal state.

Emotions are complex. According to some theories, they are states of feeling that result in physical and psychological changes that influence our behaviour. The physiology of emotion is closely linked to arousal of the nervous system with various states and strengths of arousal relating, apparently, to particular emotions. Emotion is also linked to behavioural tendency. Extroverted people are more likely to be social and express their emotions, while introverted people are more likely to be more socially withdrawn and conceal their emotions. Emotion is often the driving force behind motivation, positive or negative. According to other theories, emotions are not causal forces but simply syndromes of components, which might include motivation, feeling, behaviour, and physiological changes, but no one of these components is the emotion. Nor is the emotion an entity that causes these components.

Emotions involve different components, such as subjective experience, cognitive processes, expressive behaviour, psychophysiological changes, and instrumental behaviour. At one time, academics attempted to identify the emotion with one of the components: William James with a subjective experience, behaviourists with instrumental behaviour, psychophysiologists with physiological changes, and so on. More recently, emotion is said to consist of all the components. The different components of emotion are categorised somewhat differently depending on the academic discipline. In psychology and philosophy, emotion typically includes a subjective, conscious experience characterised primarily by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states. A similar multi-componential description of emotion is found in sociology. For example, Peggy Thoits described emotions as involving physiological components, cultural or emotional labels (anger, surprise, etc.), expressive body actions, and the appraisal of situations and contexts.

Brief History

Human nature and the following bodily sensations have been always part of the interest of thinkers and philosophers. Far most extensively, this interest has been of great interest by both Western and Eastern societies. Emotional states have been associated with the divine and the enlightenment of the human mind and body. The ever changing actions of individuals and its mood variations have been of great importance by most of the Western philosophers (Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Aquinas, Hobbes) that lead them to propose vast theories; often competing theories, that sought to explain emotion and the following motivators of human action and its consequences.

In the Age of Enlightenment Scottish thinker David Hume proposed a revolutionary argument that sought to explain the main motivators of human action and conduct. He proposed that actions are motivated by “fears, desires, and passions”. As he wrote in his book Treatise of Human Nature (1773): “Reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will… it can never oppose passion in the direction of the will… Reason is, and ought to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them”. With these lines Hume pretended to explain that reason and further action will be subjected to the desires and experience of the self. Later thinkers would propose that actions and emotions are deeply interrelated to social, political, historical, and cultural aspects of reality that would be also associated with sophisticated neurological and physiological research on the brain and other parts of the physical body.

Etymology

The word “emotion” dates back to 1579, when it was adapted from the French word émouvoir, which means “to stir up”. The term emotion was introduced into academic discussion as a catch-all term to passions, sentiments and affections. The word “emotion” was coined in the early 1800s by Thomas Brown and it is around the 1830s that the modern concept of emotion first emerged for the English language. “No one felt emotions before about 1830. Instead they felt other things – “passions”, “accidents of the soul”, “moral sentiments” – and explained them very differently from how we understand emotions today.”

Some cross-cultural studies indicate that the categorisation of “emotion” and classification of basic emotions such as “anger” and “sadness” are not universal and that the boundaries and domains of these concepts are categorised differently by all cultures. However, others argue that there are some universal bases of emotions. In psychiatry and psychology, an inability to express or perceive emotion is sometimes referred to as alexithymia.

Definitions

The Oxford Dictionaries definition of emotion is “A strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” Emotions are responses to significant internal and external events.

Emotions can be occurrences (e.g. panic) or dispositions (e.g. hostility), and short-lived (e.g. anger) or long-lived (e.g. grief). Psychotherapist Michael C. Graham describes all emotions as existing on a continuum of intensity. Thus fear might range from mild concern to terror or shame might range from simple embarrassment to toxic shame. Emotions have been described as consisting of a coordinated set of responses, which may include verbal, physiological, behavioural, and neural mechanisms.

Emotions have been categorised, with some relationships existing between emotions and some direct opposites existing. Graham differentiates emotions as functional or dysfunctional and argues all functional emotions have benefits.

In some uses of the word, emotions are intense feelings that are directed at someone or something. On the other hand, emotion can be used to refer to states that are mild (as in annoyed or content) and to states that are not directed at anything (as in anxiety and depression). One line of research looks at the meaning of the word emotion in everyday language and finds that this usage is rather different from that in academic discourse.

In practical terms, Joseph LeDoux has defined emotions as the result of a cognitive and conscious process which occurs in response to a body system response to a trigger.

Components

According to Scherer’s Component Process Model (CPM) of emotion, there are five crucial elements of emotion. From the component process perspective, emotional experience requires that all of these processes become coordinated and synchronised for a short period of time, driven by appraisal processes. Although the inclusion of cognitive appraisal as one of the elements is slightly controversial, since some theorists make the assumption that emotion and cognition are separate but interacting systems, the CPM provides a sequence of events that effectively describes the coordination involved during an emotional episode.

  • Cognitive appraisal: provides an evaluation of events and objects.
  • Bodily symptoms: the physiological component of emotional experience.
  • Action tendencies: a motivational component for the preparation and direction of motor responses.
  • Expression: facial and vocal expression almost always accompanies an emotional state to communicate reaction and intention of actions.
  • Feelings: the subjective experience of emotional state once it has occurred.

Differentiation

Emotion can be differentiated from a number of similar constructs within the field of affective neuroscience:

  • Feeling; not all feelings include emotion, such as the feeling of knowing. In the context of emotion, feelings are best understood as a subjective representation of emotions, private to the individual experiencing them.
  • Moods are diffuse affective states that generally last for much longer durations than emotions, are also usually less intense than emotions and often appear to lack a contextual stimulus.
  • Affect is used to describe the underlying affective experience of an emotion or a mood.

Purpose and Value

One view is that emotions facilitate adaptive responses to environmental challenges. Emotions have been described as a result of evolution because they provided good solutions to ancient and recurring problems that faced our ancestors. Emotions can function as a way to communicate what’s important to us, such as values and ethics. However some emotions, such as some forms of anxiety, are sometimes regarded as part of a mental illness and thus possibly of negative value.

Classification

A distinction can be made between emotional episodes and emotional dispositions. Emotional dispositions are also comparable to character traits, where someone may be said to be generally disposed to experience certain emotions. For example, an irritable person is generally disposed to feel irritation more easily or quickly than others do. Finally, some theorists place emotions within a more general category of “affective states” where affective states can also include emotion-related phenomena such as pleasure and pain, motivational states (for example, hunger or curiosity), moods, dispositions and traits.

Basic Emotions

For more than 40 years, Paul Ekman has supported the view that emotions are discrete, measurable, and physiologically distinct. Ekman’s most influential work revolved around the finding that certain emotions appeared to be universally recognised, even in cultures that were preliterate and could not have learned associations for facial expressions through media. Another classic study found that when participants contorted their facial muscles into distinct facial expressions (for example, disgust), they reported subjective and physiological experiences that matched the distinct facial expressions. Ekman’s facial-expression research examined six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Later in his career, Ekman theorised that other universal emotions may exist beyond these six. In light of this, recent cross-cultural studies led by Daniel Cordaro and Dacher Keltner, both former students of Ekman, extended the list of universal emotions. In addition to the original six, these studies provided evidence for amusement, awe, contentment, desire, embarrassment, pain, relief, and sympathy in both facial and vocal expressions. They also found evidence for boredom, confusion, interest, pride, and shame facial expressions, as well as contempt, relief, and triumph vocal expressions.

Robert Plutchik agreed with Ekman’s biologically driven perspective but developed the “wheel of emotions”, suggesting eight primary emotions grouped on a positive or negative basis: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation. Some basic emotions can be modified to form complex emotions. The complex emotions could arise from cultural conditioning or association combined with the basic emotions. Alternatively, similar to the way primary colours combine, primary emotions could blend to form the full spectrum of human emotional experience. For example, interpersonal anger and disgust could blend to form contempt. Relationships exist between basic emotions, resulting in positive or negative influences.

Multi-Dimensional Analysis

Psychologists have used methods such as factor analysis to attempt to map emotion-related responses onto a more limited number of dimensions. Such methods attempt to boil emotions down to underlying dimensions that capture the similarities and differences between experiences. Often, the first two dimensions uncovered by factor analysis are valence (how negative or positive the experience feels) and arousal (how energised or enervated the experience feels). These two dimensions can be depicted on a 2D coordinate map. This two-dimensional map has been theorised to capture one important component of emotion called core affect. Core affect is not theorised to be the only component to emotion, but to give the emotion its hedonic and felt energy.

Using statistical methods to analyse emotional states elicited by short videos, Cowen and Keltner identified 27 varieties of emotional experience: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire and surprise.

Theories

Pre-Modern History

In Buddhism, emotions occur when an object is considered as attractive or repulsive. There is a felt tendency impelling people towards attractive objects and impelling them to move away from repulsive or harmful objects; a disposition to possess the object (greed), to destroy it (hatred), to flee from it (fear), to get obsessed or worried over it (anxiety), and so on.

In stoic theories it was seen as a hindrance to reason and therefore a hindrance to virtue. Aristotle believed that emotions were an essential component of virtue. In the Aristotelian view all emotions (called passions) corresponded to appetites or capacities. During the Middle Ages, the Aristotelian view was adopted and further developed by scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas in particular.

In Chinese antiquity, excessive emotion was believed to cause damage to qi, which in turn, damages the vital organs. The four humours theory made popular by Hippocrates contributed to the study of emotion in the same way that it did for medicine.

In the early 11th century, Avicenna theorised about the influence of emotions on health and behaviours, suggesting the need to manage emotions.

Early modern views on emotion are developed in the works of philosophers such as René Descartes, Niccolò Machiavelli, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes and David Hume. In the 19th century emotions were considered adaptive and were studied more frequently from an empiricist psychiatric perspective.

Western Theological

Christian perspective on emotion presupposes a theistic origin to humanity. God who created humans gave humans the ability to feel emotion and interact emotionally. Biblical content expresses that God is a person who feels and expresses emotion. Though a somatic view would place the locus of emotions in the physical body, Christian theory of emotions would view the body more as a platform for the sensing and expression of emotions. Therefore emotions themselves arise from the person, or that which is “imago-dei” or image of God in humans. In Christian thought, emotions have the potential to be controlled through reasoned reflection. That reasoned reflection also mimics God who made mind. The purpose of emotions in human life are therefore summarised in God’s call to enjoy Him and creation, humans are to enjoy emotions and benefit from them and use them to energise behaviour.

Evolutionary Theories (19th Century)

Perspectives on emotions from evolutionary theory were initiated during the mid-late 19th century with Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Surprisingly, Darwin argued that emotions served no evolved purpose for humans, neither in communication, nor in aiding survival. Darwin largely argued that emotions evolved via the inheritance of acquired characters. He pioneered various methods for studying non-verbal expressions, from which he concluded that some expressions had cross-cultural universality. Darwin also detailed homologous expressions of emotions that occur in animals. This led the way for animal research on emotions and the eventual determination of the neural underpinnings of emotion.

Evolutionary Theories (Contemporary)

More contemporary views along the evolutionary psychology spectrum posit that both basic emotions and social emotions evolved to motivate (social) behaviours that were adaptive in the ancestral environment. Emotion is an essential part of any human decision-making and planning, and the famous distinction made between reason and emotion is not as clear as it seems. Paul D. MacLean claims that emotion competes with even more instinctive responses, on one hand, and the more abstract reasoning, on the other hand. The increased potential in neuroimaging has also allowed investigation into evolutionarily ancient parts of the brain. Important neurological advances were derived from these perspectives in the 1990s by Joseph E. LeDoux and António Damásio.

Research on social emotion also focuses on the physical displays of emotion including body language of animals and humans (see affect display). For example, spite seems to work against the individual but it can establish an individual’s reputation as someone to be feared. Shame and pride can motivate behaviours that help one maintain one’s standing in a community, and self-esteem is one’s estimate of one’s status.

Somatic Theories (General)

Somatic theories of emotion claim that bodily responses, rather than cognitive interpretations, are essential to emotions. The first modern version of such theories came from William James in the 1880s. The theory lost favour in the 20th century, but has regained popularity more recently due largely to theorists such as John Cacioppo, António Damásio, Joseph E. LeDoux and Robert Zajonc who are able to appeal to neurological evidence.

Somatic Theories (James-Lange Theory)

In his 1884 article William James argued that feelings and emotions were secondary to physiological phenomena. In his theory, James proposed that the perception of what he called an “exciting fact” directly led to a physiological response, known as “emotion.” To account for different types of emotional experiences, James proposed that stimuli trigger activity in the autonomic nervous system, which in turn produces an emotional experience in the brain. The Danish psychologist Carl Lange also proposed a similar theory at around the same time, and therefore this theory became known as the James–Lange theory. As James wrote, “the perception of bodily changes, as they occur, is the emotion.” James further claims that “we feel sad because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and either we cry, strike, or tremble because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.”

An example of this theory in action would be as follows: An emotion-evoking stimulus (snake) triggers a pattern of physiological response (increased heart rate, faster breathing, etc.), which is interpreted as a particular emotion (fear). This theory is supported by experiments in which by manipulating the bodily state induces a desired emotional state. Some people may believe that emotions give rise to emotion-specific actions, for example, “I’m crying because I’m sad,” or “I ran away because I was scared.” The issue with the James-Lange theory is that of causation (bodily states causing emotions and being a priori), not that of the bodily influences on emotional experience (which can be argued and is still quite prevalent today in biofeedback studies and embodiment theory).

Although mostly abandoned in its original form, Tim Dalgleish argues that most contemporary neuroscientists have embraced the components of the James-Lange theory of emotions.

The James-Lange theory has remained influential. Its main contribution is the emphasis it places on the embodiment of emotions, especially the argument that changes in the bodily concomitants of emotions can alter their experienced intensity. Most contemporary neuroscientists would endorse a modified James-Lange view in which bodily feedback modulates the experience of emotion.

Somatic Theories (Cannon-Bard Theory)

Walter Bradford Cannon agreed that physiological responses played a crucial role in emotions, but did not believe that physiological responses alone could explain subjective emotional experiences. He argued that physiological responses were too slow and often imperceptible and this could not account for the relatively rapid and intense subjective awareness of emotion. He also believed that the richness, variety, and temporal course of emotional experiences could not stem from physiological reactions, that reflected fairly undifferentiated fight or flight responses. An example of this theory in action is as follows: An emotion-evoking event (snake) triggers simultaneously both a physiological response and a conscious experience of an emotion.

Phillip Bard contributed to the theory with his work on animals. Bard found that sensory, motor, and physiological information all had to pass through the diencephalon (particularly the thalamus), before being subjected to any further processing. Therefore, Cannon also argued that it was not anatomically possible for sensory events to trigger a physiological response prior to triggering conscious awareness and emotional stimuli had to trigger both physiological and experiential aspects of emotion simultaneously.

Somatic Theories (Two-Factor Theory)

Stanley Schachter formulated his theory on the earlier work of a Spanish physician, Gregorio Marañón, who injected patients with epinephrine and subsequently asked them how they felt. Marañón found that most of these patients felt something but in the absence of an actual emotion-evoking stimulus, the patients were unable to interpret their physiological arousal as an experienced emotion. Schachter did agree that physiological reactions played a big role in emotions. He suggested that physiological reactions contributed to emotional experience by facilitating a focused cognitive appraisal of a given physiologically arousing event and that this appraisal was what defined the subjective emotional experience. Emotions were thus a result of two-stage process:

  1. General physiological arousal; and
  2. Experience of emotion.

For example, the physiological arousal, heart pounding, in a response to an evoking stimulus, the sight of a bear in the kitchen. The brain then quickly scans the area, to explain the pounding, and notices the bear. Consequently, the brain interprets the pounding heart as being the result of fearing the bear. With his student, Jerome Singer, Schachter demonstrated that subjects can have different emotional reactions despite being placed into the same physiological state with an injection of epinephrine. Subjects were observed to express either anger or amusement depending on whether another person in the situation (a confederate) displayed that emotion. Hence, the combination of the appraisal of the situation (cognitive) and the participants’ reception of adrenaline or a placebo together determined the response. This experiment has been criticised in Jesse Prinz’s (2004) Gut Reactions.

Cognitive Theories (General)

With the two-factor theory now incorporating cognition, several theories began to argue that cognitive activity in the form of judgments, evaluations, or thoughts were entirely necessary for an emotion to occur. One of the main proponents of this view was Richard Lazarus who argued that emotions must have some cognitive intentionality. The cognitive activity involved in the interpretation of an emotional context may be conscious or unconscious and may or may not take the form of conceptual processing.

Lazarus’ theory is very influential; emotion is a disturbance that occurs in the following order:

  • Cognitive appraisal: The individual assesses the event cognitively, which cues the emotion.
  • Physiological changes: The cognitive reaction starts biological changes such as increased heart rate or pituitary adrenal response.
  • Action: The individual feels the emotion and chooses how to react.

For example: Jenny sees a snake.

  • Jenny cognitively assesses the snake in her presence and cognition allows her to understand it as a danger.
  • Her brain activates the adrenal glands which pump adrenaline through her blood stream, resulting in increased heartbeat.
  • Jenny screams and runs away.

Lazarus stressed that the quality and intensity of emotions are controlled through cognitive processes. These processes underline coping strategies that form the emotional reaction by altering the relationship between the person and the environment.

George Mandler provided an extensive theoretical and empirical discussion of emotion as influenced by cognition, consciousness, and the autonomic nervous system in two books (Mind and Emotion, 1975, and Mind and Body: Psychology of Emotion and Stress, 1984)

There are some theories on emotions arguing that cognitive activity in the form of judgments, evaluations, or thoughts are necessary in order for an emotion to occur. A prominent philosophical exponent is Robert C. Solomon (for example, The Passions, Emotions and the Meaning of Life, 1993). Solomon claims that emotions are judgments. He has put forward a more nuanced view which responds to what he has called the ‘standard objection’ to cognitivism, the idea that a judgment that something is fearsome can occur with or without emotion, so judgment cannot be identified with emotion. The theory proposed by Nico Frijda where appraisal leads to action tendencies is another example.

It has also been suggested that emotions (affect heuristics, feelings and gut-feeling reactions) are often used as shortcuts to process information and influence behaviour. The affect infusion model (AIM) is a theoretical model developed by Joseph Forgas in the early 1990s that attempts to explain how emotion and mood interact with one’s ability to process information.

Cognitive Theories (Perceptual Theory)

Theories dealing with perception either use one or multiples perceptions in order to find an emotion. A recent hybrid of the somatic and cognitive theories of emotion is the perceptual theory. This theory is neo-Jamesian in arguing that bodily responses are central to emotions, yet it emphasizes the meaningfulness of emotions or the idea that emotions are about something, as is recognised by cognitive theories. The novel claim of this theory is that conceptually-based cognition is unnecessary for such meaning. Rather the bodily changes themselves perceive the meaningful content of the emotion because of being causally triggered by certain situations. In this respect, emotions are held to be analogous to faculties such as vision or touch, which provide information about the relation between the subject and the world in various ways. A sophisticated defence of this view is found in philosopher Jesse Prinz’s book Gut Reactions, and psychologist James Laird’s book Feelings.

Cognitive Theories (Affective Events Theory)

Affective events theory is a communication-based theory developed by Howard M. Weiss and Russell Cropanzano (1996), that looks at the causes, structures, and consequences of emotional experience (especially in work contexts). This theory suggests that emotions are influenced and caused by events which in turn influence attitudes and behaviours. This theoretical frame also emphasizes time in that human beings experience what they call emotion episodes – a “series of emotional states extended over time and organized around an underlying theme.” This theory has been utilised by numerous researchers to better understand emotion from a communicative lens, and was reviewed further by Howard M. Weiss and Daniel J. Beal in their article, “Reflections on Affective Events Theory”, published in Research on Emotion in Organisations in 2005.

Situated Perspective on Emotion

A situated perspective on emotion, developed by Paul E. Griffiths and Andrea Scarantino, emphasizes the importance of external factors in the development and communication of emotion, drawing upon the situationism approach in psychology. This theory is markedly different from both cognitivist and neo-Jamesian theories of emotion, both of which see emotion as a purely internal process, with the environment only acting as a stimulus to the emotion. In contrast, a situationist perspective on emotion views emotion as the product of an organism investigating its environment, and observing the responses of other organisms. Emotion stimulates the evolution of social relationships, acting as a signal to mediate the behaviour of other organisms. In some contexts, the expression of emotion (both voluntary and involuntary) could be seen as strategic moves in the transactions between different organisms. The situated perspective on emotion states that conceptual thought is not an inherent part of emotion, since emotion is an action-oriented form of skilful engagement with the world. Griffiths and Scarantino suggested that this perspective on emotion could be helpful in understanding phobias, as well as the emotions of infants and animals.

Genetics

Emotions can motivate social interactions and relationships and therefore are directly related with basic physiology, particularly with the stress systems. This is important because emotions are related to the anti-stress complex, with an oxytocin-attachment system, which plays a major role in bonding. Emotional phenotype temperaments affect social connectedness and fitness in complex social systems. These characteristics are shared with other species and taxa and are due to the effects of genes and their continuous transmission. Information that is encoded in the DNA sequences provides the blueprint for assembling proteins that make up our cells. Zygotes require genetic information from their parental germ cells, and at every speciation event, heritable traits that have enabled its ancestor to survive and reproduce successfully are passed down along with new traits that could be potentially beneficial to the offspring.

In the five million years since the lineages leading to modern humans and chimpanzees split, only about 1.2% of their genetic material has been modified. This suggests that everything that separates us from chimpanzees must be encoded in that very small amount of DNA, including our behaviours. Students that study animal behaviours have only identified intraspecific examples of gene-dependent behavioural phenotypes. In voles (Microtus spp.) minor genetic differences have been identified in a vasopressin receptor gene that corresponds to major species differences in social organisation and the mating system. Another potential example with behavioural differences is the FOCP2 gene, which is involved in neural circuitry handling speech and language. Its present form in humans differed from that of the chimpanzees by only a few mutations and has been present for about 200,000 years, coinciding with the beginning of modern humans. Speech, language, and social organization are all part of the basis for emotions.

Formation

Neurobiological Explanation

Based on discoveries made through neural mapping of the limbic system, the neurobiological explanation of human emotion is that emotion is a pleasant or unpleasant mental state organized in the limbic system of the mammalian brain. If distinguished from reactive responses of reptiles, emotions would then be mammalian elaborations of general vertebrate arousal patterns, in which neurochemicals (for example, dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin) step-up or step-down the brain’s activity level, as visible in body movements, gestures and postures. Emotions can likely be mediated by pheromones (think fear).

For example, the emotion of love is proposed to be the expression of Paleocircuits of the mammalian brain (specifically, modules of the cingulate gyrus) which facilitate the care, feeding, and grooming of offspring. Paleocircuits are neural platforms for bodily expression configured before the advent of cortical circuits for speech. They consist of pre-configured pathways or networks of nerve cells in the forebrain, brain stem and spinal cord.

Other emotions like fear and anxiety long thought to be exclusively generated by the most primitive parts of the brain (stem) and more associated to the fight-or-flight responses of behaviour, have also been associated as adaptive expressions of defensive behaviour whenever a threat is encountered. Although defensive behaviours have been present in a wide variety of species, Blanchard et al. (2001) discovered a correlation of given stimuli and situation that resulted in a similar pattern of defensive behaviour towards a threat in human and non-human mammals.

Whenever, potentially dangerous stimuli is presented additional brain structures activate that previously thought (hippocampus, thalamus, etc). Thus, giving the amygdala an important role on coordinating the following behavioural input based on the presented neurotransmitters that respond to threat stimuli. These biological functions of the amygdala are not only limited to the “fear-conditioning” and “processing of aversive stimuli”, but also are present on other components of the amygdala. Therefore, it can referred the amygdala as a key structure to understand the potential responses of behaviour in danger like situations in human and non-human mammals.

The motor centres of reptiles react to sensory cues of vision, sound, touch, chemical, gravity, and motion with pre-set body movements and programmed postures. With the arrival of night-active mammals, smell replaced vision as the dominant sense, and a different way of responding arose from the olfactory sense, which is proposed to have developed into mammalian emotion and emotional memory. The mammalian brain invested heavily in olfaction to succeed at night as reptiles slept – one explanation for why olfactory lobes in mammalian brains are proportionally larger than in the reptiles. These odour pathways gradually formed the neural blueprint for what was later to become our limbic brain.

Emotions are thought to be related to certain activities in brain areas that direct our attention, motivate our behaviour, and determine the significance of what is going on around us. Pioneering work by Paul Broca (1878), James Papez (1937), and Paul D. MacLean (1952) suggested that emotion is related to a group of structures in the centre of the brain called the limbic system, which includes the hypothalamus, cingulate cortex, hippocampi, and other structures. More recent research has shown that some of these limbic structures are not as directly related to emotion as others are while some non-limbic structures have been found to be of greater emotional relevance.

Prefrontal Cortex

There is ample evidence that the left prefrontal cortex is activated by stimuli that cause positive approach. If attractive stimuli can selectively activate a region of the brain, then logically the converse should hold, that selective activation of that region of the brain should cause a stimulus to be judged more positively. This was demonstrated for moderately attractive visual stimuli and replicated and extended to include negative stimuli.

Two neurobiological models of emotion in the prefrontal cortex made opposing predictions. The valence model predicted that anger, a negative emotion, would activate the right prefrontal cortex. The direction model predicted that anger, an approach emotion, would activate the left prefrontal cortex. The second model was supported.

This still left open the question of whether the opposite of approach in the prefrontal cortex is better described as moving away (direction model), as unmoving but with strength and resistance (movement model), or as unmoving with passive yielding (action tendency model). Support for the action tendency model (passivity related to right prefrontal activity) comes from research on shyness and research on behavioural inhibition. Research that tested the competing hypotheses generated by all four models also supported the action tendency model.

Homeostatic/Primordial Emotion

Another neurological approach proposed by Bud Craig in 2003 distinguishes two classes of emotion: “classical” emotions such as love, anger and fear that are evoked by environmental stimuli, and “homeostatic emotions” – attention-demanding feelings evoked by body states, such as pain, hunger and fatigue, that motivate behaviour (withdrawal, eating or resting in these examples) aimed at maintaining the body’s internal milieu at its ideal state.

Derek Denton calls the latter “primordial emotions” and defines them as “the subjective element of the instincts, which are the genetically programmed behaviour patterns which contrive homeostasis. They include thirst, hunger for air, hunger for food, pain and hunger for specific minerals etc. There are two constituents of a primordial emotion – the specific sensation which when severe may be imperious, and the compelling intention for gratification by a consummatory act.”

Emergent Explanation

Joseph LeDoux differentiates between the human’s defence system, which has evolved over time, and emotions such as fear and anxiety. He has said that the amygdala may release hormones due to a trigger (such as an innate reaction to seeing a snake), but “then we elaborate it through cognitive and conscious processes”.

Lisa Feldman Barrett highlights differences in emotions between different cultures, and says that emotions (such as anxiety) “are not triggered; you create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment.” She has termed this approach the theory of constructed emotion.

Disciplinary Approaches

Many different disciplines have produced work on the emotions. Human sciences study the role of emotions in mental processes, disorders, and neural mechanisms. In psychiatry, emotions are examined as part of the discipline’s study and treatment of mental disorders in humans. Nursing studies emotions as part of its approach to the provision of holistic health care to humans. Psychology examines emotions from a scientific perspective by treating them as mental processes and behaviour and they explore the underlying physiological and neurological processes. In neuroscience sub-fields such as social neuroscience and affective neuroscience, scientists study the neural mechanisms of emotion by combining neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood. In linguistics, the expression of emotion may change to the meaning of sounds. In education, the role of emotions in relation to learning is examined.

Social sciences often examine emotion for the role that it plays in human culture and social interactions. In sociology, emotions are examined for the role they play in human society, social patterns and interactions, and culture. In anthropology, the study of humanity, scholars use ethnography to undertake contextual analyses and cross-cultural comparisons of a range of human activities. Some anthropology studies examine the role of emotions in human activities. In the field of communication sciences, critical organisational scholars have examined the role of emotions in organisations, from the perspectives of managers, employees, and even customers. A focus on emotions in organisations can be credited to Arlie Russell Hochschild’s concept of emotional labour. The University of Queensland hosts EmoNet, an e-mail distribution list representing a network of academics that facilitates scholarly discussion of all matters relating to the study of emotion in organisational settings. The list was established in January 1997 and has over 700 members from across the globe.

In economics, the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, emotions are analysed in some sub-fields of microeconomics, in order to assess the role of emotions on purchase decision-making and risk perception. In criminology, a social science approach to the study of crime, scholars often draw on behavioural sciences, sociology, and psychology; emotions are examined in criminology issues such as anomie theory and studies of “toughness,” aggressive behaviour, and hooliganism. In law, which underpins civil obedience, politics, economics and society, evidence about people’s emotions is often raised in tort law claims for compensation and in criminal law prosecutions against alleged lawbreakers (as evidence of the defendant’s state of mind during trials, sentencing, and parole hearings). In political science, emotions are examined in a number of sub-fields, such as the analysis of voter decision-making.

In philosophy, emotions are studied in sub-fields such as ethics, the philosophy of art (for example, sensory – emotional values, and matters of taste and sentimentality), and the philosophy of music (see also music and emotion). In history, scholars examine documents and other sources to interpret and analyse past activities; speculation on the emotional state of the authors of historical documents is one of the tools of interpretation. In literature and film-making, the expression of emotion is the cornerstone of genres such as drama, melodrama, and romance. In communication studies, scholars study the role that emotion plays in the dissemination of ideas and messages. Emotion is also studied in non-human animals in ethology, a branch of zoology which focuses on the scientific study of animal behaviour. Ethology is a combination of laboratory and field science, with strong ties to ecology and evolution. Ethologists often study one type of behaviour (for example, aggression) in a number of unrelated animals.

History

The history of emotions has become an increasingly popular topic recently, with some scholars[who?] arguing that it is an essential category of analysis, not unlike class, race, or gender. Historians, like other social scientists, assume that emotions, feelings and their expressions are regulated in different ways by both different cultures and different historical times, and the constructivist school of history claims even that some sentiments and meta-emotions, for example schadenfreude, are learnt and not only regulated by culture. Historians of emotion trace and analyse the changing norms and rules of feeling, while examining emotional regimes, codes, and lexicons from social, cultural, or political history perspectives. Others focus on the history of medicine, science, or psychology. What somebody can and may feel (and show) in a given situation, towards certain people or things, depends on social norms and rules; thus historically variable and open to change. Several research centres have opened in the past few years in Germany, England, Spain, Sweden, and Australia.

Furthermore, research in historical trauma suggests that some traumatic emotions can be passed on from parents to offspring to second and even third generation, presented as examples of transgenerational trauma.

Sociology

A common way in which emotions are conceptualized in sociology is in terms of the multidimensional characteristics including cultural or emotional labels (for example, anger, pride, fear, happiness), physiological changes (for example, increased perspiration, changes in pulse rate), expressive facial and body movements (for example, smiling, frowning, baring teeth), and appraisals of situational cues. One comprehensive theory of emotional arousal in humans has been developed by Jonathan Turner (2007; 2009). Two of the key eliciting factors for the arousal of emotions within this theory are expectations states and sanctions. When people enter a situation or encounter with certain expectations for how the encounter should unfold, they will experience different emotions depending on the extent to which expectations for Self, other and situation are met or not met. People can also provide positive or negative sanctions directed at Self or other which also trigger different emotional experiences in individuals. Turner analysed a wide range of emotion theories across different fields of research including sociology, psychology, evolutionary science, and neuroscience. Based on this analysis, he identified four emotions that all researchers consider being founded on human neurology including assertive-anger, aversion-fear, satisfaction-happiness, and disappointment-sadness. These four categories are called primary emotions and there is some agreement amongst researchers that these primary emotions become combined to produce more elaborate and complex emotional experiences. These more elaborate emotions are called first-order elaborations in Turner’s theory and they include sentiments such as pride, triumph, and awe. Emotions can also be experienced at different levels of intensity so that feelings of concern are a low-intensity variation of the primary emotion aversion-fear whereas depression is a higher intensity variant.

Attempts are frequently made to regulate emotion according to the conventions of the society and the situation based on many (sometimes conflicting) demands and expectations which originate from various entities. The expression of anger is in many cultures discouraged in girls and women to a greater extent than in boys and men (the notion being that an angry man has a valid complaint that needs to be rectified, while an angry women is hysterical or oversensitive, and her anger is somehow invalid), while the expression of sadness or fear is discouraged in boys and men relative to girls and women (attitudes implicit in phrases like “man up” or “don’t be a sissy”). Expectations attached to social roles, such as “acting as man” and not as a woman, and the accompanying “feeling rules” contribute to the differences in expression of certain emotions. Some cultures encourage or discourage happiness, sadness, or jealousy, and the free expression of the emotion of disgust is considered socially unacceptable in most cultures. Some social institutions are seen as based on certain emotion, such as love in the case of contemporary institution of marriage. In advertising, such as health campaigns and political messages, emotional appeals are commonly found. Recent examples include no-smoking health campaigns and political campaigns emphasizing the fear of terrorism.

Sociological attention to emotion has varied over time. Émile Durkheim (1915/1965) wrote about the collective effervescence or emotional energy that was experienced by members of totemic rituals in Australian aborigine society. He explained how the heightened state of emotional energy achieved during totemic rituals transported individuals above themselves giving them the sense that they were in the presence of a higher power, a force, that was embedded in the sacred objects that were worshipped. These feelings of exaltation, he argued, ultimately lead people to believe that there were forces that governed sacred objects.

In the 1990s, sociologists focused on different aspects of specific emotions and how these emotions were socially relevant. For Cooley (1992), pride and shame were the most important emotions that drive people to take various social actions. During every encounter, he proposed that we monitor ourselves through the “looking glass” that the gestures and reactions of others provide. Depending on these reactions, we either experience pride or shame and this results in particular paths of action. Retzinger (1991) conducted studies of married couples who experienced cycles of rage and shame. Drawing predominantly on Goffman and Cooley’s work, Scheff (1990) developed a micro sociological theory of the social bond. The formation or disruption of social bonds is dependent on the emotions that people experience during interactions.

Subsequent to these developments, Randall Collins (2004) formulated his interaction ritual theory by drawing on Durkheim’s work on totemic rituals that was extended by Goffman (1964/2013; 1967) into everyday focused encounters. Based on interaction ritual theory, we experience different levels or intensities of emotional energy during face-to-face interactions. Emotional energy is considered to be a feeling of confidence to take action and a boldness that one experiences when they are charged up from the collective effervescence generated during group gatherings that reach high levels of intensity.

There is a growing body of research applying the sociology of emotion to understanding the learning experiences of students during classroom interactions with teachers and other students (for example, Milne & Otieno, 2007; Olitsky, 2007; Tobin, et al., 2013; Zembylas, 2002). These studies show that learning subjects like science can be understood in terms of classroom interaction rituals that generate emotional energy and collective states of emotional arousal like emotional climate.

Apart from interaction ritual traditions of the sociology of emotion, other approaches have been classed into one of six other categories:

  • Evolutionary/biological theories.
  • Symbolic interactionist theories.
  • Dramaturgical theories.
  • Ritual theories.
  • Power and status theories.
  • Stratification theories.
  • Exchange theories.

This list provides a general overview of different traditions in the sociology of emotion that sometimes conceptualise emotion in different ways and at other times in complementary ways. Many of these different approaches were synthesized by Turner (2007) in his sociological theory of human emotions in an attempt to produce one comprehensive sociological account that draws on developments from many of the above traditions.

Psychotherapy and Regulation

Emotion regulation refers to the cognitive and behavioural strategies people use to influence their own emotional experience. For example, a behavioural strategy in which one avoids a situation to avoid unwanted emotions (trying not to think about the situation, doing distracting activities, etc.). Depending on the particular school’s general emphasis on either cognitive components of emotion, physical energy discharging, or on symbolic movement and facial expression components of emotion different schools of psychotherapy approach the regulation of emotion differently. Cognitively oriented schools approach them via their cognitive components, such as rational emotive behaviour therapy. Yet others approach emotions via symbolic movement and facial expression components (like in contemporary Gestalt therapy).

Cross-Cultural Research

Research on emotions reveals the strong presence of cross-cultural differences in emotional reactions and that emotional reactions are likely to be culture-specific. In strategic settings, cross-cultural research on emotions is required for understanding the psychological situation of a given population or specific actors. This implies the need to comprehend the current emotional state, mental disposition or other behavioural motivation of a target audience located in a different culture, basically founded on its national political, social, economic, and psychological peculiarities but also subject to the influence of circumstances and events.

Computer Science

In the 2000s, research in computer science, engineering, psychology and neuroscience has been aimed at developing devices that recognise human affect display and model emotions. In computer science, affective computing is a branch of the study and development of artificial intelligence that deals with the design of systems and devices that can recognise, interpret, and process human emotions. It is an interdisciplinary field spanning computer sciences, psychology, and cognitive science. While the origins of the field may be traced as far back as to early philosophical enquiries into emotion, the more modern branch of computer science originated with Rosalind Picard’s 1995 paper on affective computing. Detecting emotional information begins with passive sensors which capture data about the user’s physical state or behaviour without interpreting the input. The data gathered is analogous to the cues humans use to perceive emotions in others. Another area within affective computing is the design of computational devices proposed to exhibit either innate emotional capabilities or that are capable of convincingly simulating emotions. Emotional speech processing recognises the user’s emotional state by analysing speech patterns. The detection and processing of facial expression or body gestures is achieved through detectors and sensors.

The Effects on Memory

Emotion affects the way autobiographical memories are encoded and retrieved. Emotional memories are reactivated more, they are remembered better and have more attention devoted to them. Through remembering our past achievements and failures, autobiographical memories affect how we perceive and feel about ourselves.

Notable Theorists

In the late 19th century, the most influential theorists were William James (1842-1910) and Carl Lange (1834-1900). James was an American psychologist and philosopher who wrote about educational psychology, psychology of religious experience/mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism. Lange was a Danish physician and psychologist. Working independently, they developed the James-Lange theory, a hypothesis on the origin and nature of emotions. The theory states that within human beings, as a response to experiences in the world, the autonomic nervous system creates physiological events such as muscular tension, a rise in heart rate, perspiration, and dryness of the mouth. Emotions, then, are feelings which come about as a result of these physiological changes, rather than being their cause.

Silvan Tomkins (1911-1991) developed the affect theory and script theory. The affect theory introduced the concept of basic emotions, and was based on the idea that the dominance of the emotion, which he called the affected system, was the motivating force in human life.

Some of the most influential deceased theorists on emotion from the 20th century include:

  • Magda B. Arnold (1903-2002), an American psychologist who developed the appraisal theory of emotions;
  • Richard Lazarus (1922-2002), an American psychologist who specialised in emotion and stress, especially in relation to cognition;
  • Herbert A. Simon (1916-2001), who included emotions into decision making and artificial intelligence;
  • Robert Plutchik (1928-2006), an American psychologist who developed a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion;
  • Robert Zajonc (1923-2008) a Polish-American social psychologist who specialised in social and cognitive processes such as social facilitation;
  • Robert C. Solomon (1942-2007), an American philosopher who contributed to the theories on the philosophy of emotions with books such as What Is An Emotion?: Classic and Contemporary Readings (2003);
  • Peter Goldie (1946-2011), a British philosopher who specialised in ethics, aesthetics, emotion, mood and character;
  • Nico Frijda (1927-2015), a Dutch psychologist who advanced the theory that human emotions serve to promote a tendency to undertake actions that are appropriate in the circumstances, detailed in his book The Emotions (1986); and
  • Jaak Panksepp (1943-2017), an Estonian-born American psychologist, psychobiologist, neuroscientist and pioneer in affective neuroscience.

Influential theorists who are still active include the following psychologists, neurologists, philosophers, and sociologists:

  • Lisa Feldman Barrett (born 1963): Neuroscientist and psychologist specializing in affective science and human emotion.
  • John Cacioppo (born 1951): From the University of Chicago, founding father with Gary Berntson of social neuroscience.
  • Randall Collins (born 1941): American sociologist from the University of Pennsylvania developed the interaction ritual theory which includes the emotional entrainment model.
  • Michael Apter (born 1939): British psychologist who developed reversal theory, a structural, phenomenological theory of personality, motivation, and emotion.
  • António Damásio (born 1944): Portuguese behavioural neurologist and neuroscientist who works in the US.
  • Richard Davidson (born 1951): American psychologist and neuroscientist; pioneer in affective neuroscience.
  • Paul Ekman (born 1934): Psychologist specialising in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions.
  • Barbara Fredrickson: Social psychologist who specialises in emotions and positive psychology.
  • Arlie Russell Hochschild (born 1940): American sociologist whose central contribution was in forging a link between the subcutaneous flow of emotion in social life and the larger trends set loose by modern capitalism within organisations.
  • Joseph E. LeDoux (born 1949): American neuroscientist who studies the biological underpinnings of memory and emotion, especially the mechanisms of fear.
  • George Mandler (born 1924): American psychologist who wrote influential books on cognition and emotion.
  • Konstantinos V. Petrides: Greek-British psychologist who specialises in emotion, personality, psychometrics, and philosophy of mind, professor of psychology and psychometrics at University College London.
  • Jesse Prinz: American philosopher who specialises in emotion, moral psychology, aesthetics and consciousness.
  • James A. Russell (born 1947): American psychologist who developed or co-developed the PAD theory of environmental impact, circumplex model of affect, prototype theory of emotion concepts, a critique of the hypothesis of universal recognition of emotion from facial expression, concept of core affect, developmental theory of differentiation of emotion concepts, and, more recently, the theory of the psychological construction of emotion.
  • Klaus Scherer (born 1943): Swiss psychologist and director of the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences in Geneva; he specialises in the psychology of emotion.
  • Ronald de Sousa (born 1940): English-Canadian philosopher who specialises in the philosophy of emotions, philosophy of mind and philosophy of biology.
  • Jonathan H. Turner (born 1942): American sociologist from the University of California, Riverside, who is a general sociological theorist with specialty areas including the sociology of emotions, ethnic relations, social institutions, social stratification, and bio-sociology.
  • Dominique Moïsi (born 1946): Authored a book titled The Geopolitics of Emotion focusing on emotions related to globalisation.