The Emotions: A Philosophical Theory (Philosophical Studies Series)

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Since the interval between stimulus and emotional response is sometimes extraordinarily short, the appraisal mechanism must be capable of operating with great speed. Often the appraisal is not only quick but it happens without awareness, so I must postulate that the appraisal mechanism is able to operate automatically. It must be constructed so that it quickly attends to some stimuli, determining not only that they pertain to emotion, but to which emotion, and then activating the appropriate part of the affect programme , p.

The automatic appraisal mechanism is able to detect certain stimuli, which Ekman calls elicitors. Elicitors can vary by culture, as well as from individual to individual. On a more general level, however, there are similarities among the elicitors for each emotion. These are some of the examples that Ekman offers:.

Disgust elicitors share the characteristic of being noxious rather than painful; One of the common characteristics of some of the elicitors of happiness is release from accumulated pressure, tension, discomfort, etc. Loss of something to which one is intimately attached might be a common characteristic of sadness elicitors. Interference with ongoing activity might be characteristic of some anger elicitors , pp.

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Related to Ekman's notion of an elicitor, Griffiths suggests that this system includes a "biased learning mechanism," which allows it to easily learn some things, but makes it difficult for it to learn others. For example, it is easier for humans to acquire a fear of snakes than a fear flowers Griffiths, , pp. Furthermore, this system "would have some form of memory, storing information about classes of stimuli previously assessed as meriting emotional response" , p.

The second mechanism that Ekman describes, what he calls the affect programme, governs the various elements of the emotion response: the skeletal muscle response, facial response, vocal response, and central and autonomic nervous system responses , p. According to Ekman, this is a mechanism that "stores the patterns for these complex organized responses, and which when set off directs their occurrence" , p. Griffiths also points out that the affect programs recall that, in Griffiths' parlance, affect program refers to the whole system have several of the features that Fodor identified for modular processes.

In particular, when the appropriate stimulus is presented to the system the triggering of the response is mandatory, meaning that once it begins it cannot be interfered with or stopped. The affect programs are also encapsulated, or cut off from other mental processes , pp. Ekman appears to have been aware of the modular nature of this system when he wrote, "The difficulty experienced when trying to interfere with the operation of the affect programme, the speed of its operation, its capability to initiate responses that are hard to halt voluntarily, is what is meant by out-of-control quality to the subjective experiences of some emotions" , p.

Ekman and Griffiths both believe that this system accounts for a significant number of the emotions that humans experience, but neither think that it describes all emotions. Ekman says that the automatic appraisal mechanism is one kind of appraisal mechanism, but he also believes that cognitive appraisals are sometimes utilized. Griffiths defends the view that the vernacular term emotion does not pick out a single psychological class.

In addition to the affect program emotions, he suggests some emotions are cognitively mediated and some are socially constructed. An alternative view is that the emotion process is always a non-cognitive one. That is, a system like the one described by Ekman and Griffiths accounts for all occurrences of emotion. This position is defended by Jenefer Robinson , , It is also similar to the theories developed by William James and, more recently, Jesse Prinz a , which are discussed in the next section.

See Zajonc , for another important defense of the non-cognitive position. In her "exclusively non-cognitive" theory, Robinson claims that any cognitive processes that occur in an emotion-causing situation are in addition to the core process, which is non-cognitive. She acknowledges that in some cases, an emotion might be caused by cognitive activity, but this is explained as cognitive activity that precedes the non-cognitive emotion process.

For example, sometimes an individual's fear is in response to cognitively complex information such as the value of one's investments suddenly dropping. In this case, a cognitive process will determine that the current situation is dangerous, and then what Robinson calls an affective appraisal will be made of this specific information and a fear response will be triggered. As Robinson describes this part of her theory, "My suggestion is that there is a set of inbuilt affective appraisal mechanisms, which in more primitive species and in neonates are automatically attuned to particular stimuli, but which, as human beings learn and develop, can also take as input more complex stimuli, including complex 'judgments' or thoughts" , p.

This explanation allows Robinson to maintain the idea that emotions are non-cognitive while acknowledging that humans can have emotions in response to complex events. This aspect of her theory can also be used to explain how an individual can be cognitively aware that he or she has been unjustly treated, or been unexpectedly rewarded, but not experience any emotion for example, anger, or sadness, or happiness —a situation which does seem to occur sometimes.

For example, the cognitive appraisal may indicate that the individual has been unjustly treated, but the affective appraisal will not evaluate this as worthy of an emotion response. Robinson also suggests that the non-cognitive process may be followed by cognitive activity that labels an emotion response in ways that reflect the individual's thoughts and beliefs. The non-cognitive process might generate an anger response, but then subsequent cognitive monitoring of the response and the situation causes the emotion to be labeled as jealousy.

Thus, the individual will take him or herself to be experiencing jealousy, even though the actual emotion process was the one specific to anger , The theories discussed in this section have varied in the importance that they place on the bodily changes that typically during the emotion process. The judgment theorist Martha Nussbaum is dismissive of the bodily changes, whereas the cognitive appraisal theorists that is, the psychologists hold that the bodily response is a legitimate part of the process and has to be included in any complete description of the emotions.

Meanwhile, all of the non-cognitive theorists agree that bodily changes are part of the emotion process. However, the cognitive theories all maintain that it is the cognitive activity that determines the specific emotion that is produced that is, sadness, anger, fear, and so forth. Ekman's automatic appraisal mechanism and Robinson's affective appraisals are both supposed to determine which emotion is generated.

The further question is whether there is a unique set of bodily changes for each emotion. The cognitive appraisal theorist Klaus Scherer claims that each appraisal component directs specific bodily changes, and so his answer to this question is affirmative ; Griffiths says that is likely that each affect program emotion has a unique bodily response profile , pp. Nevertheless, although answering this question is important for a complete understanding of the emotions, it does not greatly affect the theories mentioned here, which are largely based on what occurs in the early part of the emotion process.

The somatic feedback theorists differ from the cognitive and non-cognitive positions by claiming that the bodily responses are unique for each emotion and that it is in virtue of the unique patterns of somatic activity that the emotions are differentiated. Thus, according to these theories, there is one set of bodily changes for sadness, one set for anger, one for happiness, and so on.

In any case, it is the feedback that the mind or brain gets from the body that makes the event an emotion. William James was the first to develop a somatic feedback theory, and recently James' model has been revived and expanded by Antonio Damasio , and Jesse Prinz a, b. Somatic feedback theories suggest that once the bodily response has been generated that is, a change in heart rate, blood pressure, facial expression, and so forth , the mind registers these bodily activities, and this mental state the one caused by the bodily changes is the emotion.

James describes it this way: "the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact [that is, the emotion causing event], and Note that James' theory overlaps with the non-cognitive theories insofar as James suggests that when the stimulus is perceived, a bodily response is triggered automatically or reflexively , p. The way in which he describes this process is just as central to the non-cognitive theories as it is to his own: "the nervous system of every living thing is but a bundle of predispositions to react in particular ways upon the contact of particular features of the environment.

The neural machinery is but a hyphen between determinate arrangements of matter outside the body and determinate impulses to inhibition or discharge within its organs" , p. Hence, according to James, when the appropriate type of stimulus is perceived that is a bear , this automatically causes a bodily response trembling, raised heart rate, and so forth , and the individual's awareness of this bodily response is the fear.

A consequence of this view is that without a bodily response there cannot be an emotion. This is a point that James illustrates with the following thought experiment:. If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no "mind-stuff" out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains , p.

Jesse Prinz has recently expanded upon James' theory. For Prinz, as for James, the emotion is the mental state that is caused by the feedback from the body. However, Prinz makes a distinction between what this mental state registers and what it represents. According to Prinz, an emotion registers the bodily response, but it represents simple information concerning what each emotion is about—for example, fear represents danger, sadness represents the loss of something valued, anger represents having been demeaned.

Like James, Prinz suggests that the bodily response is primarily the result of a non-cognitive process. In Prinz's example in Figure 1, there is no mental evaluation or appraisal that the snake is dangerous, rather the perception of the snake triggers the bodily changes. In this case, Prinz says that the bodily changes that occur in response to perceiving a snake can be explained as an adaptation.

Our bodies respond in the way that they do to the perception of a snake because snakes are dangerous, and so danger is what the mental state is representing a, p. Figure 1. An illustration of Prinz's somatic feedback theory. In this example, fear is the mental state caused by feedback from the body that is, the perception of the bodily changes. This mental state registers the bodily changes, but represents meaningful, albeit simple, information. In this example the mental state represents danger. Adapted from Prinz a, p. The advantage that Prinz's theory has over James' is that it incorporates a plausible account of the intentionality of emotions into a somatic feedback theory.

In Prinz's theory, the mental state the emotion is caused by bodily activity, but, rather than being about the bodily activity, the emotion is about something else, namely these simple pieces of information that the mental state represents. The third theorist in this group, Antonio Damasio, is also able to account for the intentionality of the mental state that is caused by feedback from the body.

Here, Damasio's account differs from Prinz's because Damasio takes it that the emotion process does include cognitive evaluations, at least for most emotions. A word of clarification before proceeding: what James and Prinz call the emotion, Damasio refers to as a feeling. In Damasio's theory, a typical case begins with thoughts and evaluations about the stimulus, and this mental activity triggers a bodily response—this process Damasio calls "the emotion. This feeling occurs "in juxtaposition" to the thoughts and evaluations about the stimulus that triggered the bodily changes in the first place.

Figure 2. Damasio's somatic feedback theory. The part of this process that includes B and C is what Damsio calls the emotion. The mental representation of the activity in the body, D , Damasio calls the feeling. Since B and D co-occur, the feeling will be accompanied by the information that triggered the bodily response. According to Damasio, these feelings are crucial in helping us make decisions and choose our actions see Damasio's somatic marker hypothesis , , As an illustration of this, let us say that Bill's brother-in-law has just offered to let him in on a risky, but possibly lucrative business venture.

Although Bill realizes that there are many aspects of the situation to consider, the thought of losing a lot of money causes a bodily response. The feedback from Bill's body is then juxtaposed with the thought of being tangled up in a losing venture with his brother-in-law. It is this negative feeling that informs Bill's choice of behavior, and he declines the offer without ever pondering all of the costs and benefits.

Bill could have considered the situation more thoroughly, but acting on this kind of feeling is, according to Damasio, often the way in which actions are chosen. Another important feature of Damasio's account and one that Prinz has adopted is the idea that there is an as-if loop in the brain—as in 'as-if the body were active. The somatosensory cortices will respond as if the bodily activity was actually occurring. This will generate a feeling more quickly and efficiently, although it may not feel the same as a genuine bodily response , p.

In any case, the consequence is that there can be a feeling even if the body is not involved. The possibility that there is an as-if loop in the brain allows the somatic feedback theorists to explain how individuals who cannot receive the typical feedback from the body can still have feelings or in Prinz's language, emotions , for instance, those individuals who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

This article has outlined the basic approaches to explaining the emotions, it has reviewed a number of important theories, and it has discussed many of the features that emotions are believed to have. One tentative conclusion that can now be drawn is that it is unlikely that any single theory will prevail anytime soon, especially since not all of these theories are in direct competition with each other. Some of them are compatible, for instance, an evolutionary theory and a theory that describes the emotion process can easily complement each other; Griffiths' theory of the affect program emotions demonstrates that these two perspectives can be employed in a single theory.

On the other hand, some of the theories are simply inconsistent, like the cognitive and non-cognitive theories, and so the natural expectation is that one of these positions will eventually be eliminated. Many of the theories, however, fall somewhere in between, agreeing about some features of emotion, while disagreeing about others. The empirical evidence that exists and continues to be collected is one topic that has not been discussed in this article. Being familiar with this research is central to analyzing and critiquing the theories.

In the past forty years, a vast amount of data has been collected by cognitive and social psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and ethologists. This empirical research has made theorizing about the emotions an interesting challenge. A problem that remains for the theorist of emotion is accounting for all of the available empirical evidence. Gregory Johnson Email: gregory. Theories of Emotion There are different theories of emotion to explain what emotions are and how they operate.

Emotion Emotion is one type of affect, other types being mood, temperament and sensation for example, pain. Evolutionary Theories The evolutionary approach focuses on the historical setting in which emotions developed. One example, noted by Darwin in The Origin of Species , is the skull sutures in newborns: The sutures in the skulls of young mammals have been advanced as a beautiful adaptation for aiding parturition [that is, live birth], and no doubt they facilitate, or may be indispensable for this act; but as sutures occur in the skulls of young birds and reptiles, which have only to escape from a broken egg, we may infer that this structure has arisen from the laws of growth, and has been taken advantage of in the parturition of the higher animals p.

Natural Selection in Early Hominids The theories in the first group claim that the emotions were selected for in early hominids. Adaptations Shared by All Animals: Plutchik In contrast to theories that claim that the emotions are the result of natural selection that occurred in early hominids, another position is that the selection occurred much earlier, and so the adaptations are shared by a wider collection of species today. Historical, but Not Adaptationist: Griffiths Although the trend when explaining emotions from a historical point of view is to focus on adaptations, an alternative is simply to identify the traits that are present in a certain range of species because of their shared ancestry.

Social and Cultural Theories The second main approach to explaining the emotions begins with the idea that emotions are social constructions. Motivations for the Social Approach This section will discuss some of the motivations for adopting this approach to explaining the emotions.

In brief, Parkinson describes emotion as: something that emerges directly through the medium of interaction.

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James Averill ; see also has identified the rules for anger, some of which are listed here: A person has the right duty to become angry at intentional wrongdoing or at unintentional misdeeds if those misdeeds are correctable for example, due to negligence, carelessness, or oversight. Anger should be directed only at persons and, by extension, other entities one's self, human institutions that can be held responsible for their actions.

Anger should not be displaced on an innocent third party, nor should it be directed at the target for reasons other than the instigation. The angry response should be proportional to the instigation; that is, it should not exceed what is necessary to correct the situation, restore equity, or prevent the instigation from happening again. Anger should follow closely the provocation and not endure longer than is needed to correct the situation typically a few hours or days, at most pp.

Emotions Are Transitory Social Roles: Averill Many theories have been developed from the social perspective, but one that has been particularly significant is James Averill's, which will be reviewed in this section , , Theories of the Emotion Process The third category of theories contains those that attempt to describe the emotion process itself. Cognitive Theories The cognitive theories contend that the early part of the emotion process includes the manipulation of information and so should be understood as a cognitive process.

Judgment Theories Judgment theories are the version of the cognitive position that have been developed by philosophers. Nussbaum believes that this can be demonstrated by considering the consequences of having the requisite mental states while not having a bodily response: There usually will be bodily sensations and changes involved in grieving, but if we discovered that my blood pressure was quite low during this whole episode, or that my pulse rate never went above sixty, there would not, I think, be the slightest reason to conclude that I was not grieving.

Thus, William Lyons describes his theory, the causal-evaluative theory, as follows: the causal-evaluative theory gets its name from advocating that X is to be deemed an emotional state if and only if it is a physiologically abnormal state caused by the subject of that state's evaluation of his or her situation. Cognitive Appraisal Theories Cognitive appraisal theories are the cognitive theories that have been developed by psychologists. The five appraisal components are described as follows: The motivational state appraisal distinguishes between states that the individual views as desirable appetitive and states that are viewed as undesirable aversive.

This is not an evaluation of whether the event itself is positive or negative; rather it is an evaluation of whether the event includes some important aspect that is perceived as a goal or some aspect that is perceived as a punishment. A punishment or something perceived as a punishment that is avoided is a positive event, but still includes an evaluation of a punishment.

For example, according to Roseman, although relief is a positive emotion, it includes an evaluation that some important aspect of the event is aversive. Conversely, sorrow, a negative emotion, includes an evaluation that some important aspect of the event is appetitive. The situational state component determines whether the desirable or undesirable quality of the event is present or absent. The appraisal that something desirable is present and the appraisal that something undesirable is absent are both motive-consistent.

On the other hand, the appraisal that something desirable is absent or something undesirable is present is motive-inconsistent. So for instance, the situational state for both joy and relief is motive-consistent. But, joy includes the appraisals that there is a desirable state and it is present, and relief includes the appraisals that there is an undesirable state and it is absent. The probability component evaluates whether an event is definite certain , only possible uncertain , or of an unknown probability.

For this component, an outcome of uncertainty contributes to hope instead of joy or relief, which both involve an appraisal that the event is certain that is, the outcome of the event has been determined. The possibility that the event can be appraised as having an unknown probability was added by Roseman in order to account for surprise, which is often considered a basic emotion for example, Izard, ; Ekman, For this appraisal, unknown differs from uncertain in that unknown is the value that is assigned when the distinction between motive-consistent versus motive-inconsistent cannot be made.

When the distinction can be made, the value is assigned certain or uncertain. The evaluation of power is the individual's perception of his or her strength or weakness in a situation. These values distinguish, for example, shame weak and regret strong , as well as dislike weak and anger strong. Roseman suggests a situation that would be likely to cause an evaluation of weakness rather than strength. He suggests that we "consider someone being robbed at gunpoint. Will this person, quite unjustly treated but quite weak, be feeling anger?

I contend that he would not, though he would probably feel some negative emotion towards his assailant. This emotion, in Lastly, the agency component. An evaluation is made about whether the event was caused by the individual, caused by some other person, or is merely a result of the situation that is, the event is perceived as lacking an agent. This appraisal usually determines to whom or towards what the emotion is directed.

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Making this evaluation sometimes requires a subtle understanding of what the emotion-causing stimulus is. For instance, consider an individual who is presented with a gift by a friend. If the individual focuses on the gift and having just received it the general state of affairs , his emotion is joy. If the individual focuses on the friend who has just given the gift focuses on another person , the emotion is liking. Non-Cognitive Theories Non-cognitive theories are those that defend the claim that judgments or appraisals are not part of the emotion process.

Some Emotions Are Non-Cognitive: Ekman and Griffiths Paul Ekman originally developed what is now the standard description of the non-cognitive process , and more recently Paul Griffiths has incorporated Ekman's account into his own theory of the emotions Describing the automatic appraisal mechanism, Ekman says: There must be an appraiser mechanism which selectively attends to those stimuli external or internal which are the occasion for activating the affect programme These are some of the examples that Ekman offers: Disgust elicitors share the characteristic of being noxious rather than painful; All Emotions Are Non-Cognitive: Robinson An alternative view is that the emotion process is always a non-cognitive one.

Somatic Feedback Theories The theories discussed in this section have varied in the importance that they place on the bodily changes that typically during the emotion process. This is a point that James illustrates with the following thought experiment: If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no "mind-stuff" out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains , p.

Conclusion This article has outlined the basic approaches to explaining the emotions, it has reviewed a number of important theories, and it has discussed many of the features that emotions are believed to have. References and Further Reading a. References Armon-Jones, C. Prescription, explication and the social construction of emotion. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour , 15 , 1— Armon-Jones, C. The thesis of constructionism. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

The social functions of emotion. Averill, J. A constructivist view of emotion. Kellerman Eds. New York: Academic Press. Anger and aggression: An essay on emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag. The acquisition of emotions during adulthood. Illusions of anger. Tedeschi Eds. Boucher, J. Judgment of emotion: American and Malay antecedents. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology , 12 , — Brandon, R. Adaptation and environment. Princeton, N. J: Princeton University Press.

Cosmides, L. Evolutionary psychology and the emotions. Haviland-Jones Eds. New York: Guilford Press. Damasio, A. Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: G. The somatic marker hypothesis and the possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, , — Details Collect From YY Order a copy Copyright or permission restrictions may apply. We will contact you if necessary. To learn more about Copies Direct watch this short online video.

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