Skip to main content

What is Emotion?

Emotion, in psychology, is a complex state of a person expressed bodily by changes in facial expression, gesture, breathing rate and depth, heart rate, blood pressure, glandular secretion, electrical resistance of the skin, etc, associated with excitement and usually accompanied by specific forms of behavior.

In line with his evolutionary principles, Charles Darwin, in his Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), attempted to show that various facial expressions associated with certain emotions were related to reactions which had been useful to man's ancestors. Piderit believed that facial expressions helped or hindered the reception of stimuli, e.g., wrinkling the nose to avoid a bad smell. Darwin carried out the first experiments in which pictures were shown to judges who were asked to say what emotion was portrayed. Considerable differences were noted among the judgments.

It has been shown that slight agreement among judges is usual, that more attention is paid to the mouth than to the eyes in making judgments and that persons subjected to a variety of emotional experiences respond differently to the same experience.

In connection with the relation of physiological changes and feelings, William James and Karl Lange independently proposed what is known as the James-Lange theory, according to which bodily changes caused feeling rather than vice versa.

However, Sherrington showed that dogs gave emotional responses when the nerve connections to the body were severed. Cannon showed the close connection between emotion and the activities of the sympathetic nervous system which controls blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and digestion, and which are affected by the release of hormones from the adrenal gland into the blood stream. Cannon proposed the thalamic theory of emotions, according to which a lower center of the brain, the thalamus, sends impulses to the higher centers of the brain in the cortex and to the muscles, glands and viscera. Emotion, then, is brain controlled rather than body-controlled.

In young children emotion develops from simple excitability as the only reaction of the new born by a process influenced by maturation, and by learning to the capacity to respond differentially. The expression of emotion in adults depends upon the culture (way of life) in which they have been reared.

Scroll to Continue

Related Articles