What is emotion?
The word emotion includes a wide range of observable behaviors, expressed feelings, and changes in the body state. This diversity in intended meanings of the word emotion make it hard to study. For many of us emotions are very personal states, difficult to define or to identify except in the most obvious instances. Moreover, many aspects of emotion seem unconscious to us. Even simple emotional states appear to be much more complicated than states as hunger and thirst.
To clarify the concept of emotions, three definitions of various aspects of emotions can be distinguished:
|"The word emotion includes a broad repertoire of perceptions, expressions of feelings and bodily changes."|
These are three generally accepted aspects of behavior, but some researchers add two others aspects: motivational state and cognitive processing.
- Emotion is a feeling that is private and subjective. Humans can report an extraordinary range of states, which they can feel or experience. Some reports are accompanied by obvious signs of enjoyment or distress, but often these reports have no overt indicators. In many cases, the emotions we note in ourselves seem to be blends of different states.
- Emotion is a state of psychological arousal an expression or display of distinctive somatic and autonomic responses. This emphasis suggests, that emotional states can be defined by particular constellations of bodily responses. Specifically, these responses involve autonomously innervated visceral organs, like the heart or stomach. This second aspect of emotion allows us to examine emotions in both animals and human beings.
- Emotions are actions commonly "deemed", such as defending or attacking in response to a threat. This aspect of emotion is especially relevant to Darwin's point of view of the functional roles of emotion. He said that emotions had an important survival role because they generated actions to dangerous situations.
Some psychologists have tried to subdivide emotions in categories. For example Wilhelm Wundt, the great nineteenth century psychologist, offered the view that emotions consist of three basic dimensions, each one of a pair of opposite states: pleasantness/unpleasantness, tension/release and excitement/relaxation. However, this list has become more complex over time.
Plutchik suggests that there are eight basic emotions grouped in four pairs of opposites:
In Plutchik's view, all emotions are a combination of these basic emotions. This hypothesis can be summarized in a three dimensional cone with a vertical dimension reflecting emotional intensity.
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