Subjective experience of emotional buildup

Subjective experience of emotional buildup

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Subjectively, some emotions have a sudden onset, while others build up slowly. For example, a text message from a loved one can quickly fill you with joy. Alternatively, frustration/annoyance at being stuck in traffic can build up over time or watching a funny video can help you transition from sadness to functional calm.

According to various studies, the perceived magnitude of an emotion changes as the time between evaluation and experience grows. Similarly, is there evidence that the onset or acceleration of a built-up emotion is perceived differently at the time between the evaluation and the onset grows?

About Emotion

Emotion is a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response. Emotion is often intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation. In some theories, cognition is an important aspect of emotion. Historically, people spoke not of emotions but of passions. The passions encompass, or encompassed, not only the emotions, but also pleasure, pain, and desire.

An emotion is normally quite short-lived, but intense. Emotions are also likely to have a definite and identifiable cause. For example, after disagreeing with a friend over politics, people might feel angry for a short period of time. A mood, on the other hand, is usually much milder than an emotion, but longer-lasting. In many cases, it can be difficult to identify the specific cause of a mood. For example, peoplke might find themselfs feeling gloomy for several days without any clear, identifiable reason.

Emotions involve different components, such as subjective experience, cognitive processes, expressive behavior, psychophysiological changes, and instrumental behavior. The different components of emotion are categorized somewhat differently depending on the academic discipline. In psychology and philosophy, emotion typically includes a subjective, conscious experience characterized primarily by psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states. A similar multicomponential description of emotion is found in sociology.

Key Elements of Emotion

Emotions can be defined as a positive or negative experience that is associated with a particular pattern of physiological activity.

The Subjective Experience – While experts believe that there are a number of basic universal emotions that are experienced by people all over the world regardless of background or culture, researchers also believe that experiencing emotion can be highly subjective. Mixed emotions over different events or situations in our lives are common. When faced with starting a new job, people might feel both excited and nervous. Getting married or having a child might be marked by a wide variety of emotions ranging from joy to anxiety. These emotions might occur simultaneously, or people might feel them one after another.

The Physiological Response – If people havee ever felt their stomach lurch from anxiety or their heart palpate with fear, then theyu realize that emotions also cause strong physiological reactions. Many of the physical reactions people experience during an emotion, such as sweating palms, racing heartbeat, or rapid breathing are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system.

The Behavioral Response – The final component is perhaps one that people are most familiar with the actual expression of emotion. Researchers believe that many expressions are universal, such as a smile indicating happiness or pleasure or a frown indicating sadness or displeasure. Cultural rules also play an important role in how we express and interpret emotions. In Japan, for example, people tend to mask displays of fear or disgust when the authority figure is present.

Importance of Emotion

“Emotions” wrote Aristotle (384–322 bce), “are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgements, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites.” Emotion is indeed a heterogeneous category that encompasses a wide variety of important psychological phenomena.

Emotions produce different physiological, behavioral and cognitive changes. The original role of emotions was to motivate adaptive behaviors that in the past would have contributed to the survival of humans. Emotions are responses to significant internal and external events. Some emotions are very specific, insofar as they concern a particular person, object, or situation. Others, such as distress, joy, or depression, are very general. Some emotions are very brief and barely conscious.

Commentary: I don’t second that emotion: subjective experience of fear in adolescents with psychopathic traits – reflections on Marsh et al. (2011)

In an important early characterisation of the psychopathic personality, Cleckley wrote that the psychopath: ‘. appears almost as incapable of anxiety as of profound remorse.’ He also remarked that the psychopath shows ‘. a relative immunity from such anxiety as might be judged normal or appropriate in disturbing situations’. These clinical descriptions set the stage for experimental investigations of fear and anxiety in psychopaths.

In one of the most famous doctoral theses ever published, Lykken (1957) demonstrated that adult psychopaths show deficits in fear conditioning, as evidenced by impaired skin conductance responses to conditioned stimuli that predicted electric shocks. The psychopaths also displayed deficits in passive avoidance learning when negotiating a mental maze in which certain choices led to electric shock. Lastly, Lykken found that psychopaths expressed a preference for highly arousing or dangerous experiences such as parachute-jumping over mundane and repetitive, but safe, activities, whereas control subjects showed the reverse pattern. Lykken’s work thus provided an empirical basis for the view that psychopaths are deficient in their experience of fear and anxiety, and his results were subsequently replicated and extended by researchers such as Robert Hare, Christopher Patrick and Joseph Newman.

The study by Marsh et al. (2011) in this issue of the Journal used a self-report method developed by Scherer and Wallbott to provide further evidence for a deficit in the experience of fear in adolescents with psychopathic traits. Participants were asked to recall real-life events in which they had felt specific emotions, such as happiness, anger, sadness or fear, and to articulate and quantify the symptoms of physiological arousal and other cognitions that had accompanied these affective states. While a control group of typically-developing adolescents reported greater physiological arousal during the experience of fear relative to other negative emotional states, adolescents with psychopathic traits and disruptive behaviour disorders failed to show heightened arousal for fear, thereby failing to differentiate between the negative emotions. The adolescents with psychopathic traits did, however, show increased arousal for negative, compared with positive, emotions indicating that they were able to recall instances in which they had experienced strong emotions accompanied by the appropriate physiological sensations. This runs counter to the view that psychopathic individuals are ‘unemotional’ or show a ‘general poverty in major affective reactions’. Marsh et al. claim that they were able to measure symptoms of sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal by self-report, and that the deficits in arousal in adolescents with psychopathic traits were specific to indices of sympathetic activity (e.g., faster heartbeat) during fear. Finally, the participants were asked to estimate how strongly and how frequently they felt each of the emotions. The adolescents with psychopathic traits reported feeling fear less often and less strongly than typically-developing adolescents. Importantly, this deficit in subjective experience again appeared to be selective to fear, rather than being manifest as a generalised emotion deficit.

The closest we can get to ethically inducing fear in the laboratory is to study aversive conditioning or present visual images conveying threat cues, so this work provides a useful bridge between research on these processes and ecologically valid assessments of fear in real-life situations. It also neatly complements a study by Patrick and colleagues (1994) , in which adult criminal psychopaths, non-psychopathic criminals and a control group were asked to imagine highly unpleasant or frightening situations, and rate the intensity of their resulting subjective states. Patrick et al. (1994) also measured autonomic responses while the subjects imagined the aversive situations, using psychophysiological recording equipment. Interestingly, while subjective reports of emotional experience did not differ between groups, heart rate and skin conductance responses were attenuated in the psychopaths while they imagined fear-inducing scenarios. However, this attenuated autonomic response was not specific to the psychopathic group, but was also observed in the non-psychopathic criminals. Consequently, Factor 2 (antisocial behaviour) scores on the Psychopathy Checklist appeared to be more influential than Factor 1 (emotional detachment) scores in determining physiological responses to fear imagery. More recently, Fung et al. (2005) reported that skin conductance responses occurring in anticipation of an aversive stimulus were similarly reduced in psychopathy-prone and non-psychopathy-prone adolescents with high levels of antisocial behaviour, relative to healthy controls. The results of these two studies raise the possibility that fear deficits (or at least impairments in the autonomic correlates of fear) apply to non-psychopathic forms of antisocial behaviour as well. Since all of the adolescents with psychopathic traits included in Marsh et al. (2011) also had disruptive behaviour disorder diagnoses, in future research it will be important to examine whether deficits in the subjective experience of fear are specific to individuals with psychopathic traits, or are observed more generally in those with disruptive behaviour disorders (with or without psychopathic traits).

Intriguingly, the results of the current study by Marsh et al. also provide a potential mechanistic explanation for psychopaths’ deficits in empathy and emotion recognition, which appear to be particularly marked for states of fear in others ( Marsh & Blair, 2008 ). According to perception-action models of empathy (e.g., Preston & de Waal, 2002 ), in order to understand how someone else is feeling, we have to model their affective state. Supporting this view, a network of brain regions, including the anterior insular cortex, is activated both when experiencing pain ourselves and observing someone else in pain. However, this matching of representations may be impaired if one has little experience of the affective state that is being modelled. According to Preston and de Waal (2002) : ‘If a subject needs to access representations of a particular internal state to understand the object’s situation, then one would expect more empathizing for situations or states that the subject has experienced.’ (p. 17). In the context of this theory, the findings of Marsh et al. may prompt researchers to assess the extent to which impairments in subjective experience of fear relate to deficits in the recognition of facial or vocal expressions of fear in others. This would seem to be an important next step in terms of extending the current findings. If an association between these deficits can be confirmed, this would have clear implications for perception-action or simulation models of empathy as well as enhancing our understanding of psychopathy. It may also prompt investigations of the integrity of mirror neurone systems for emotions in psychopaths.

While this commentary has highlighted the positive features and interesting results of the article by Marsh et al., it should also be noted that the study is subject to a few limitations. First, measuring subjective reports of physiological arousal as elicited by past life events relies on introspection and assumes that the respondents were not only aware of their physiological arousal and subjective states during those situations, but that they were able to commit these experiences to memory and then accurately recall them. Consequently, deficits in emotional memory, rather than the subjective experience of emotion, could explain the findings. However, as the authors justifiably argue, on this account it is not clear why fear should be selectively impaired, while the other emotions remain intact. Second, given that it is difficult to accurately differentiate between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity even when using standardised psychophysiological recording techniques (for example, it is well-established that heart rate is subject to both sympathetic and parasympathetic influences), the argument that certain physiological phenomena map neatly onto sympathetic or parasympathetic activity should be treated with caution. Nevertheless, the study by Marsh et al. provides novel and important findings showing deficits in fear in those with psychopathic traits, demonstrates that they are already present in children and adolescents (and therefore could have consequences for socialisation processes), and highlights several issues worthy of investigation in future research, such as the relationship between impairments in subjective experience of emotion and recognition of affective states in others.

The external environment

Feeling an emotion that matches the person’s context (e.g., experiencing happiness at a birthday party) is typically the most functional or beneficial emotion to feel. [Image: OakleyOriginals,, CC BY 2.0,]

Emotions don’t occur within a vacuum. Instead, they are usually elicited by and experienced within specific situations that come in many shapes and sizes —from birthday parties to funerals, job interviews to mundane movie nights. The situation in which an emotion is experienced has strong implications for whether a given emotion is the “best” emotion to feel. Take happiness, for example. Feeling happiness at a birthday party may be a great idea. However, having the exact same experience of happiness at a funeral would likely not bode well for your well-being.

When considering how the environment influences the link between emotion and well-being, it is important to understand that each emotion has its own function. For example, although fear is a negative emotion, fear helps us notice and avoid threats to our safety (öhman & Mineka, 2001), and may thus the “best” emotion to feel in dangerous situations. Happiness can help people cooperate with others, and may thus be the best emotion to feel when we need to collaborate (e.g., Van Kleef, van Dijk, Steinel, & van Beest, 2008). Anger can energize people to compete or fight with others, and may thus be advantageous to experience it in confrontations (e.g., Tamir & Ford, 2012b Van Kleef et al., 2008). It might be disadvantageous to experience happiness (a positive emotion) when we need to fight with someone in this situation, it might be better to experience anger (a negative emotion). This suggests that emotions’ implications for well-being are not determined only by whether they are positive or negative but also by whether they are well-matched to their context.

In support of this general idea, people who experience emotions that fit the context at hand are more likely to recover from depression and trauma (Bonanno et al., 2004 Rottenberg, Kasch, Gross, & Gotlib, 2002). Research has also found that participants who want to feel emotions that match the context at hand (e.g., anger when confronting someone)—even if that emotion was negative—are more likely to experience greater well-being (Tamir & Ford, 2012a). Conversely, people who pursue emotions without regard to context—even if those emotions are positive, like happiness—are more likely to experience lower subjective well-being, more depression, greater loneliness, and even worse grades (Ford & Tamir, 2012 Mauss et al., 2012 Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, & Savino 2011 Tamir & Ford, 2012a).

In sum, this research demonstrates that regardless of whether an emotion is positive or negative, the context in which it is experienced critically influences whether the emotion helps or hinders well-being.


Culture can impact the way in which people display emotion. A cultural display rule is one of a collection of culturally specific standards that govern the types and frequencies of displays of emotions that are acceptable (Malatesta & Haviland, 1982). Therefore, people from varying cultural backgrounds can have very different cultural display rules of emotion. For example, research has shown that individuals from the United States express negative emotions like fear, anger, and disgust both alone and in the presence of others, while Japanese individuals only do so while alone (Matsumoto, 1990). Furthermore, individuals from cultures that tend to emphasize social cohesion are more likely to engage in suppression of emotional reaction so they can evaluate which response is most appropriate in a given context (Matsumoto, Yoo, & Nakagawa, 2008).

Other distinct cultural characteristics might be involved in emotionality. For instance, there may be gender differences involved in emotional processing. While research into gender differences in emotional display is equivocal, there is some evidence that men and women may differ in regulation of emotions (McRae, Ochsner, Mauss, Gabrieli, & Gross, 2008).

Despite different emotional display rules, our ability to recognize and produce facial expressions of emotion appears to be universal. In fact, even congenitally blind individuals produce the same facial expression of emotions, despite their never having the opportunity to observe these facial displays of emotion in other people. This would seem to suggest that the pattern of activity in facial muscles involved in generating emotional expressions is universal, and indeed, this idea was suggested in the late 19th century in Charles Darwin’s book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). In fact, there is substantial evidence for seven universal emotions that are each associated with distinct facial expressions. These include: happiness, surprise, sadness, fright, disgust, contempt, and anger (Ekman & Keltner, 1997).

The seven universal facial expressions of emotion are shown. (credit: modification of work by Cory Zanker)

Does smiling make you happy? Or does being happy make you smile? The facial feedback hypothesis asserts that facial expressions are capable of influencing our emotions, meaning that smiling can make you feel happier (Buck, 1980 Soussignan, 2001 Strack, Martin, & Stepper, 1988). Recent research explored how Botox, which paralyzes facial muscles and limits facial expression, might affect emotion. Havas, Glenberg, Gutowski, Lucarelli, and Davidson (2010) discovered that depressed individuals reported less depression after paralysis of their frowning muscles with Botox injections.

Of course, emotion is not only displayed through facial expression. We also use the tone of our voices, various behaviors, and body language to communicate information about our emotional states. Body language is the expression of emotion in terms of body position or movement. Research suggests that we are quite sensitive to the emotional information communicated through body language, even if we’re not consciously aware of it (de Gelder, 2006 Tamietto et al., 2009).

Watch this short History Channel video about body language to see how it plays out in the tense situation of a political debate. To apply these same concepts to the more everyday situations most of us face, check out these tips from an interview on the show Today with body language expert Janine Driver.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a set of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by repetitive behaviors and communication and social problems. Children who have autism spectrum disorders have difficulty recognizing the emotional states of others, and research has shown that this may stem from an inability to distinguish various nonverbal expressions of emotion (i.e., facial expressions) from one another (Hobson, 1986). In addition, there is evidence to suggest that autistic individuals also have difficulty expressing emotion through tone of voice and by producing facial expressions (Macdonald et al., 1989). Difficulties with emotional recognition and expression may contribute to the impaired social interaction and communication that characterize autism therefore, various therapeutic approaches have been explored to address these difficulties. Various educational curricula, cognitive-behavioral therapies, and pharmacological therapies have shown some promise in helping autistic individuals process emotionally relevant information (Bauminger, 2002 Golan & Baron-Cohen, 2006 Guastella et al., 2010).


As mentioned earlier, the hippocampus is also involved in emotional processing. Like the amygdala, research has demonstrated that hippocampal structure and function are linked to a variety of mood and anxiety disorders. Individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show marked reductions in the volume of several parts of the hippocampus, which may result from decreased levels of neurogenesis and dendritic branching (the generation of new neurons and the generation of new dendrites in existing neurons, respectively) (Wang et al., 2010). While it is impossible to make a causal claim with correlational research like this, studies have demonstrated behavioral improvements and hippocampal volume increases following either pharmacological or cognitive-behavioral therapy in individuals suffering from PTSD (Bremner & Vermetten, 2004 Levy-Gigi, Szabó, Kelemen, & Kéri, 2013).

Watch this video about research that demonstrates how the volume of the hippocampus can vary as a function of traumatic experiences.

Support for the James Lange Theory of Emotion

In 1953, Ax noticed that different physiological changes are related to different emotions. For example, fear seems to be associated with the physiological effects of adrenaline, while anger appears to be associated with the effects of noradrenaline.

Another study done by Schwatz et al in 1981 also found distinct physiological reactions for anger, fear, happiness, and sadness.

In the 1990s, advances in technology allowed psychologists to study bodily reactions, shedding more light on the James Lange Theory of Emotion and addressing some of the compelling criticisms presented by Cannon.

Using modern tools, researchers were able to demonstrate that some emotions involve differing patterns of autonomic nervous system arousal and other bodily reactions.

In a study done by Levenson et al in 1990, participants were asked to make facial expressions for the emotions of fear, anger, happiness, disgust, sadness, and surprise and to hold these expressions for 10 seconds. Researchers then measured the participants’ physiological reactions and found that there were slight but noticeable differences in heart rate, skin temperature, and other physiological reactions for the different emotions.

All emotions caused changes in heart rate and skin temperature, but they were able to find that the degree of change is actually the measure that distinguished emotions from each other. Although this finding did not support the whole theory, it did give some merit to the James Lange Theory of Emotion.

How To Build An Emotional Connection

What is an emotional connection? If you listen, are there signs that tell you that you are bonding with someone? Why is finding that level of emotional security so difficult with the opposite sex? Learn the ins and outs of an emotional connection and why it is necessary to bond emotionally in order to build a relationship. Defining Emotional Connection Each person individually defines what an emotional connection means to her, but there is a basic definition that can apply to all people. An emotional connection is a bundle of subjective feelings that come together to create a bond between two people. The word emotional means to arouse strong feelings. The feelings may be anger, sorrow, joy, love or any of thousands of emotions that humans experience. A connection is a bond, a link or tie to something or someone. Interlock the two words, emotional connection, and it becomes a bond or tie to someone with whom you share a particular set of emotions.

Relationships without an Emotional Connection In order for a relationship to build and become stronger, forge an emotional connection. Perhaps you are in a relationship with someone you feel strongly about or love. He, on the other hand, seems distant, often holding back thoughts and seldom sharing himself, physically or emotionally. This sort of relationship might be a friendship or a co-dependent situation of living together or fulfilling a sexual need. Without a strong emotional connection, it is doomed to frustrate one or both partners and ultimately fail. The Bonds that Hold A couple that meets and delves into learning as much about each other as possible creates an emotional connection. Through thoughtful and caring communication, you each learn the intricacies of the other. You learn what makes him happy, what makes him angry and what brings him to his knees in joyful celebration. He learns what brings you to tears, what causes you to smile mysteriously, and what frustrates you. You each learn the essence of the other and feel compassion and empathy, or share the emotion.

In order for a couple to benefit from the joys of an emotional connection, they must be willing to become vulnerable with each other. Allowing someone into your inner sanctum of secrets, pain and joy means taking risks. A risk of this magnitude demands trust. When trust is betrayed, the healing is long and arduous. According to Susan Johnson and Hara Estroff Marano, authors of the article “In the Name of Love” (Psychology Today Magazine, March 1994), “We fall in love when a strong attachment bond is formed. We stay in love by maintaining the bond.” Without a strong emotional connection, the road to love is blocked. When the attachment breaks or becomes neglected, love falls to the wayside.

Signs of Emotional Connection

Although every individual’s emotions differ, there is one universal sign that an emotional connection has been made between two people. A true sign is that both parties invite the other inside. You share funny stories of what happened at work and you share bad days when everything went wrong. You are both willing to give each other peeks into childhood dreams and adult aspirations. The conversation flows easily from one to the other. Even in silence, a couple creating a strong emotional bond will feel at ease. You can share anything with your partner without fear that he will flee and he feels the same. The area of emotional connection is so subjective that each person exhibits different emotions and physical feelings. She may feel “butterflies” in her stomach each time he calls. He may finish her sentence or start speaking the same thought at the same time. Is this a deep bond or just coincidence? Every person views it differently. Keep in mind there is a difference between physical attraction and an emotional connection. Although one may lead to the next, physical attraction is a superficial emotion that begins the journey toward an emotional connection and love.

Marriage and Emotional Connections An emotional connection in marriage is necessary if the union is to survive the rigors of life. When one partner comes home to a distant spouse who refuses to share, the marriage suffers. Resentment builds, disagreements ensue and a merry-go-round of hurt and lack of trust keeps the marriage in a state of turmoil. If you feel you have lost the emotional connection with your partner, try to figure out the cause. Is there an unforgiving wrong that has caused distance between the two of you? Perhaps in anger, something was said or done that caused emotional or physical pain. Maybe one of you just stopped trying due to lack of time or not wanting to face an issue. Denial comes in to play, making it difficult to reestablish the all-important emotional connection.

How to Establish an Emotional Connection If you want the healthiest relationship possible, learn how to establish a strong emotional connection with your partner. With this in place, all other areas will flow naturally. Here are seven tips that can help you forge an unbreakable bond: 1. Study Your Partner Understand what your partner needs and wants from life and you. This means paying close attention when he talks. Look past the words and into his heart where he harbors secrets he wants to share. 2. Trust Develop a sense of trust with each other. This building block to an emotional connection will not come overnight. It takes time to develop secure feelings with another person. Let trust build naturally. 3. Emotional Availability Both of you must be emotionally available to the other. If you hold back in any way, you are not opening yourself up to the possibilities of a strong connection.

4. Show Affection A couple in a budding relationship has little problem showing affection, but married couples suffering from a fraying connection may need to work on being affectionate with each other. Kiss each other good morning and good night. Hold hands, hug and rekindle the fires of physical love. 5. Fight Fair In the midst of heated battle, words and accusations fly, often hitting an unintended mark. Learn to fight fair. If you do not know how, search for a book or counselor who can help you. When arguing do not bring up the past. Stay in the moment and use solid reasons for why you feel the way you do. 6. See the World Through His Eyes Try to see the world as he does to discover who he really is. This means stepping back at times to envision why he behaves in certain ways. Observe how he reacts to situations and try to imagine being in his shoes. Expect him to do the same.

7. Overcome the Obstacles

Couples in faltering marriages often have pressing issues that need to be solved before an emotional connection can be established again. Define each problem together and then find solutions to alleviate or eliminate the obstacle. Once the biggest obstacles are conquered, you can begin rebuilding the lost emotional connection. Emotional connections are complex and subjective, but bring so much to the relationship table. Without building a strong bond, the relationship cannot advance from a simple friendship. Remaining in a relationship without an emotional connection means one or both people will end up feeling as if something is missing. And they would be right. In this case, something is missing: the strong chain that binds two people together and develops into a deep, abiding love that stands the test of time.

10.1 The Experience of Emotion

The most fundamental emotions, known as the basic emotions , are those of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. The basic emotions have a long history in human evolution, and they have developed in large part to help us make rapid judgments about stimuli and to quickly guide appropriate behavior (LeDoux, 2000). The basic emotions are determined in large part by one of the oldest parts of our brain, the limbic system, including the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the thalamus. Because they are primarily evolutionarily determined, the basic emotions are experienced and displayed in much the same way across cultures (Ekman, 1992 Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002, 2003 Fridland, Ekman, & Oster, 1987), and people are quite accurate at judging the facial expressions of people from different cultures. View Note 10.8 “Video Clip: The Basic Emotions” to see a demonstration of the basic emotions.

Video Clip: The Basic Emotions

Not all of our emotions come from the old parts of our brain we also interpret our experiences to create a more complex array of emotional experiences. For instance, the amygdala may sense fear when it senses that the body is falling, but that fear may be interpreted completely differently (perhaps even as “excitement”) when we are falling on a roller-coaster ride than when we are falling from the sky in an airplane that has lost power. The cognitive interpretations that accompany emotions—known as cognitive appraisal —allow us to experience a much larger and more complex set of secondary emotions, as shown in Figure 10.2 “The Secondary Emotions”. Although they are in large part cognitive, our experiences of the secondary emotions are determined in part by arousal (on the vertical axis of Figure 10.2 “The Secondary Emotions”) and in part by their valence—that is, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant feelings (on the horizontal axis of Figure 10.2 “The Secondary Emotions”)

Figure 10.2 The Secondary Emotions

The secondary emotions are those that have a major cognitive component. They are determined by both their level of arousal (low to high) and their valence (pleasant to unpleasant).

Adapted from Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178.

When you succeed in reaching an important goal, you might spend some time enjoying your secondary emotions, perhaps the experience of joy, satisfaction, and contentment. But when your close friend wins a prize that you thought you had deserved, you might also experience a variety of secondary emotions (in this case, the negative ones)—for instance, feeling angry, sad, resentful, and ashamed. You might mull over the event for weeks or even months, experiencing these negative emotions each time you think about it (Martin & Tesser, 2006).

The distinction between the primary and the secondary emotions is paralleled by two brain pathways: a fast pathway and a slow pathway (Damasio, 2000 LeDoux, 2000 Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrielli, 2002). The thalamus acts as the major gatekeeper in this process (Figure 10.3 “Slow and Fast Emotional Pathways”). Our response to the basic emotion of fear, for instance, is primarily determined by the fast pathway through the limbic system. When a car pulls out in front of us on the highway, the thalamus activates and sends an immediate message to the amygdala. We quickly move our foot to the brake pedal. Secondary emotions are more determined by the slow pathway through the frontal lobes in the cortex. When we stew in jealousy over the loss of a partner to a rival or recollect on our win in the big tennis match, the process is more complex. Information moves from the thalamus to the frontal lobes for cognitive analysis and integration, and then from there to the amygdala. We experience the arousal of emotion, but it is accompanied by a more complex cognitive appraisal, producing more refined emotions and behavioral responses.

Figure 10.3 Slow and Fast Emotional Pathways

There are two emotional pathways in the brain (one slow and one fast), both of which are controlled by the thalamus.

Although emotions might seem to you to be more frivolous or less important in comparison to our more rational cognitive processes, both emotions and cognitions can help us make effective decisions. In some cases we take action after rationally processing the costs and benefits of different choices, but in other cases we rely on our emotions. Emotions become particularly important in guiding decisions when the alternatives between many complex and conflicting alternatives present us with a high degree of uncertainty and ambiguity, making a complete cognitive analysis difficult. In these cases we often rely on our emotions to make decisions, and these decisions may in many cases be more accurate than those produced by cognitive processing (Damasio, 1994 Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, & van Baaren, 2006 Nordgren & Dijksterhuis, 2009 Wilson & Schooler, 1991).

4. What is Good with Emotions?

The fourth perennial question inquires about the function of emotions. According to Kennedy, Moore & Watson, emotions play three important roles in the lives of humans. First, emotions are needed for adaptation and survival. Happiness and trust motivate a person to perform at his best, while fear and disgust make a person vigilant to danger. Second, emotions influence a person on how he perceives the world. Thus, emotions have a regulatory function. Third, emotions helps people communicate their needs, wants and feeling to others.

Watch the video: Dealing with Emotions (August 2022).