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The Psychology of Emotion

Claire Powell
The scientific study of the human mind and its
Todays lecture
Defining Emotion

Are emotions universal?

Biology of emotions

Evolutionary purpose of emotions

Physiological theories of emotions

What are emotions?
Buck (1998)
1. Involve feelings (such as fear or happiness)
2. Associated with expressive behaviours (smiling, crying)
3. Have physiological responses (changes in heart rate, sweating)

Physiology - looks at how the body works

Emotions can be positive or negative

What are emotions?
Emotions are shaped by natural selection

They change our physiology, psychology and


Help us to respond to threats and opportunities

in different situations

Ness, 1990
Wouldnt we be better without


Izard (1977) emotions motivate us to do

Are emotions universal?
Darwin: expression of
emotions in man and animals

Universality of emotional

Young orangs when tickled, likewise grin

and made a chuckling sound (Darwin,
1872, p.132)

Similarities between animals

expressions and human
Are emotions universal?
We have to be careful not to anthropomorphise
Are emotions universal?
William James (1884)
considered emotions
to be instinctive.

Freud (1856-1939)
people driven to
avoid pain and to
increase pleasure.
Critique - The cultural relativist view
on emotion
However, early twentieth century rejected universality of emotions.

Skinner (1957) behaviour (emotions) is the outcome of conditional learning

Emotion not universal - Each culture develops its unique emotional

expression (Mead, 1928)

E.g. in Samoa there is no such thing as sexual jealousy

However, Freeman (1983) Mead (1928) were lied to by girls who mislead her
about emotions and general practices of their culture.
Critique - The cultural relativist view
on emotion
Problem with collecting data
on emotions

Feelings of emotional universal

expression may differ

Display rules (Ekman, Friesen &

Ellesworth, 1972)

Distinguish between basic

emotions vs bodily movements
that are culturally learnt
Are emotions universal?
During the last 30 years there is
growing evidence that Darwin was
correct and that there are universal

Ekman and Frisen (1967): visited an

isolated society living in remote part
of New Guinea (the South Fore tribe).
They were able to both identify and
copy a number of facial expressions
used by westerners.
What emotions are these six people

1. Fear

2. Happiness

3. Anger

Paul Ekman (1980, 1992)









1. Excitement

2. Anger

3. Sadness
What emotions are these six people

Paul Ekman (1980, 1992)

Paul Ekmans work on the universality
of emotions
Cross cultural research including work in New
Guinea established 6 basic emotions identifiable
from facial expressions
Pleasant surprise
Innate component to facial expressions
Further work
Ekman (1990) extended the aforementioned 6 to include
Pride in achievement
Sensory pleasure
Biology of Emotions
Area of the brain that deal with emotion
Amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex

Other animals also have involvement of the

amygdala in fear reactions (LeDoux, 1996)
Autonomic Nervous System
Autonomic Nervous System
Biology of Emotions
Positive emotions are associated with greater
left frontal brain activity and negative
emotions are associated with greater right
frontal brain activity.
The evolutionary function of emotions
If emotions are universal
and hardwired in our
brains it suggests they
were evolutionarily
adapted for.

But what is their adaptive

Evolutionary Idea
Approach to psychology that incorporates the
effects of evolution

It tries to identify what aspects of our mind

are adaptations- changes that are beneficial to
us and our survival
The evolutionary function of some
negative emotions
Fear Survival value

People who have no fear do not make good ancestors Ekman (1994;
Fredrickson (1998) negative emotions narrow attention and
increase caution
The evolutionary function of some
negative emotions
Anger a signal to others that we are not to be messed with
(Nesse, 1990)

Encourages us to take specific action (Frijda, 1986; Lazaruz,

1991; Tooby and Cosmides, 1990)
People more speedily detect an angry face than a
happy one (Ohman, 2001a)
The evolutionary function of some
negative emotions
Sadness leads to withdrawal and we aim to avoid the failure
again (Nesse, 1990)

Withdraw from action (Fredrickson, 1998, 2003)

Self punishment motivates us to protect children and other

loved ones (Wright, 1994)
The evolutionary function of some
negative emotions
The smoke detector principle
(Ness & Williams, 1995)
Evolutionary function of some
positive emotions
Happiness / joy reward for
achievement of goals

Izzard (1977) joy is associated

with safe and familiar context and
frequently with achieving goals

Fagen (1981) playing games

promotes development of both
physical and intellectual skills and
tests out our strengths and
weaknesses with other members
of the group

Evolutionary function of some
positive emotions
Love provides (temporary) bonding to mate
or permanent bonding to children
(Fredrickson, 1998)
Are all emotions adaptations?
Some emotions may have no adaptive
function but may be a by-product of the price
we pay for an opposite emotion.

i.e Bereavement could be the consequence of

the removal of love and attachment
Why do we signal emotions so
Would a poker face not be advantageous?
Or the ability to smile when youre sad, laugh
when youre angry?
Which is the real smile and which is
the fake?
Faking emotions
is extremely difficult
Real (Duchenne) smiles bring in the eyes and are readily
distinguishable from fake smiles (Ekman & Friesen, 1978)

Laughter has similar brain origin and is also hard to


Acts as guarantee of communication?

Whatever, if we evolved the ability to control

emotional expression people would no longer pay
attention to them
Showing off emotion
Haidt & Joseph (2004)
Many (all?) human emotions fulfil a social
E.g. guilt, shame, compassion, designed to hold
people together
Theory of Emotion
Experience of emotion is awareness of physiological
responses to emotion-arousing stimuli

Sight of Pounding Fear

oncoming heart (emotion)
car (arousal)
(perception of
James-Lange (cont.)
Subjects report feeling
more sad when viewing
scenes of war, sickness,
and starvation if their
sad face muscles are
They also find comic
strips funnier if their
happy face muscles
are activated.
Smile and youll be happy!
Facial feedback hypothesis
Theory of Emotion
heart Emotion-arousing
Sight of stimuli simultaneously
car trigger:
(perception of
stimulus) physiological responses
subjective experience of
Fear emotion
Theory of Emotion
Canon argued that emotion occurs even if the bodily changes
which transmit feedback to the brain are eliminated.

Canon severed neural connections to the cortex of cats

(creating decorticate cats). When provoked, exhibited the
emotional behaviour normally associated with rage (erect hair,
growling, and the baring of teeth). Called the behaviour sham

In addition, Cannon argued that visceral responses occur too

slowly to be recognized by the brain before emotional
responses to a stimuli occur.
Theory of Emotion
Bard agreed with Cannon and expanded on his work in what is
now known as the Cannon-Bard theory (also called
the emergency theory).
Argues that the thalamus, a lower brain stem structure (part
of the limbic system) is necessary for emotional responses.
The thalamus sends messages to the cortex for interpretation
of the emotion and simultaneously to the sympathetic
nervous system for appropriate physical responses.
According to the Cannon-Bard theory, then, the identification
(experience) of an emotion occurs at the same time as the
activation of bodily responses and not because of them (as the
James-Lange theory proposed).
Two factor theory of emotion
Schachters Two-Factor (cont.)
Swinging Bridge Study

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