Emotions : An Introduction

22 Jan 2013

Emotion has been defined as a particular psychological state of feeling, such as fear, anger, joy, and sorrow. The feeling often includes action tendencies and tends to trigger certain perceptual and cognitive processes. Most experts agree that emotion is a causal factor or influence in thoughts, actions, personalities, and social relationships.

The concept of emotion that will be developed here is a multiaspect, or multilevel, one, considering structure and functions at the levels of neurophysiology, emotion expression, and emotion experience (feeling). It should be noted, however, that not all of the numerous definitions that can be found in emotion literature fit into this multilevel concept. The definitions, which reflect differences in the interests and theoretical orientations of the authors, can be reduced to three categories concerned with structure and three concerned with functions. The three structural categories are the three levels, or aspects, that are included in the multilevel concept. The first of these categories of definition focuses on the neurophysiological processes underlying or accompanying emotions, the second on expression, or emotional behaviour, and the third on the subjective experience, or conscious aspect, of emotion.

Of the three categories of definition related to functions, the first defines emotions in terms of their adaptive or disruptive influences. The second category defines emotion in terms of motivation and considers it as part of the same class of phenomena that contains physiological drives, such as pain, thirst, and the need for elimination. The third category concerned with functions consists of definitions that attempt to distinguish between emotion and other psychological processes.

A multilevel definition of emotion essentially subsumes definitions that focus on one of the three structural categories of neural processes, expressive behaviour, and subjective experience, and elaborations and extensions of such a definition would consider concerns of the three categories related to functions. In summary, the foregoing consideration of definitions of emotion suggests that a multilevel concept comes closest to a consensus viewpoint among emotion theorists and provides a way of resolving the complex issue of definition. Thus, a specific emotion is a particular set of neural processes that gives rise to a particular configuration of expressive behaviours and a particular feeling state or quality of consciousness that has motivational and adaptive functions. Under some circumstances extremely intense emotion may become disruptive.

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