Emotions are Adaptive

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The central importance of emotions in human behavior is easily seen when we try to imagine life without it.

Psychologists have been interested in the topic of emotions since the beginning of psychology in the late 1800's.

Emotions are Adaptive

Charles Darwin proposed that there is an evolutionary link between the experience of emotion and facial expression of emotion.

He speculated that our ancestors communicated with facial expressions in the absence of language.

Nonverbal facial expressions led to our ancestor’s survival.

Defining Emotions

Emotion involves a subjective conscious experience accompanied by bodily arousal and characteristic overt expressions.

Several components to an emotion:

  • Reaction to a perceived stimulus

  • Subjective Experience (Cognitive Component)

  • Bodily Arousal (Physiological Component)

  • Nonverbal Expressions (Behavioral Component)

Reaction to a Perceived Stimulus

Emotions typically occur in response to an event, usually a social event, real, remembered, anticipated, or imagined (Ekman, 1993)

Emotion is a reaction to a stimulus e.g., a test, a date, a snake

We usually don't experience real joy, anger or fear without some cause

Cognitive Component - A personal or subjective feeling is associated with every emotion.

A person’s “Cognitive Appraisal” of events in their lives is a key determinant of the emotion they are experiencing

Is the event or perceive stimulus a positive thing?

Includes an evaluative aspect

May be pleasant or unpleasant but is never neutral to us.

Physiological Arousal

With emotions comes activity in areas of the brain such as the limbic system and the thalamus which influences the autonomic nervous system.

Physiological Arousal

Autonomic nervous system (ANS)

  • Sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

  • Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)

During an emotional experience, our autonomic nervous system mobilizes energy in the body that arouses us.

Physiological Similarities

Physiological responses related to the emotions of fear, anger, love, and boredom are very similar.

Physiological Differences

Physical responses, like finger temperature and movement of facial muscles, change during fear, rage, and joy.

Nonverbal Expressive Behavior

Charles Darwin - First to study the relationship between emotions and facial expressions

  • Survival benefit

  • Communication

  • Universal?

  • Intensified emotions

Primary Emotional Expressions

What primary emotions have distinctive facial expressions that we can determine at a glance?

Many scientists believe there are only 6 primary ones (Note: there are more than 6 primary emotions

Happiness Sadness

Fear Anger

Surprise Disgust

Facial Expression based on the work of Paul Ekman

Cross-Cultural Studies

Face-in-the Crowd Effect

In a crowd of faces a single angry face will “pop out” faster than a single happy face (Fox et al.


Does physiological arousal precede or follow your emotional experience?

Commonsense View

When you become happy, your heart starts beating faster. First comes conscious awareness, then comes physiological activity.

Theories of Emotion

  • James-Lange

    • Feel afraid because pulse is racing

  • Cannon-Bard

    • Thalamus sends signals simultaneously to the cortex and the autonomic nervous system

  • Schacter’s Two-Factor Theory

  • Evolutionary Theories

    • Innate reactions with little cognitive interpretation

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