Some continuous musings on emotion.

I’m trying to think about emotion. Or think about how to think about them. What is a good, fruitful conceptualization.

Perhaps, first, in line with Joseph LeDoux one should really jettison the term “Emotion” as it is more of a folk-psychological term, which muddies how you think about it. (Emotion Review have had issues recently discussing this). Of course, the folk psychology of emotion is itself interesting – lots of cultural variation. Swedish doesn’t have a word for emotions. We use feelings. Covers roughly the same thing. There’s also variation across history.

The first Emotion Review of 2014 has a section looking at James legacy. If you have read any intro book on psychology the past 15 or so years (when they even had anything about emotion), you would have heard about the bear, and running, and that was the emotion, whereas Cannon said no, it is all in the brain – all this is covered in the issue, in its proper historical view. It always irritated me that these cartoon versions of their theories were something that we taught our undergrads in what would, perhaps, be their only encounter with emotion research, considering that the state of research is very different, and has been for a very long time. Not wrong to look at the historical, of course, but it was not presented as historical. In our book it was presented as “theories of emotion”. I would have liked them to, instead, look at categorical vs. dimensional accounts, and expand on the appraisal theories.

But, an account by Phoebe Ellsworth  in the Emotion Review issue stuck with me for a couple of reasons. (Title is “Basic Emotions and the Rocks of New Hampshire”)

She worked with Ekman and Friesen on their basic emotion program. She had come into this, viscerally convinced that there were similarities in emotional experience and expression across cultures from some films she had seen.

At the time, in text books she said, textbooks used to display picture of faces that were distorted in a grimace, asking if one could tell what the person was feeling. Then they would feel the entire picture in context and reveal that it was some winning moment and go ha-HA you thought you could read emotions from faces, but neener neener you are soooo wrong. (OK, I’m exaggerating). But, this was mainly the result from the Landis work that no IRB would approve these days.

So nothing is new under the sun, because I have seen things like that published in the 2000 – showing how the body informs, and the face is not necessarily the man informant, as a refutation to the basic emotion in the face thing. Sure, context, body, face, all matters in how we interpret what someone is feeling, and that may not entirely be signaled by the face (I’m thinking studies by deGelder and Todorov, and similar). And, yes, that it is important to keep in mind. But, I just found out that is not new…. Why is research memory so damned short?

She also gave a bit of insider info on how they were preparing for the cross-cultural work on expression recognition, and how they selected the expressions. The six is, in some ways, an artifact of the time and resources they had. They had enough pictures of these expressions that were viable, but not enough of other theoretical expressions. (Much of them were derived from Silvan Tomkins ideas).

And, yes, even I know that what is supposed to be the basic emotions vary, and vary across the researchers. You can find that in tables in emotion textbooks. I read that in papers during the late nineties. You can find it on the web. There are some overlaps always, and some odd ones.

Also, historically, what are the emotions and what are not seems to have shifted. Is love? Shame? Awe? Fear?  emotions? Why? Why not?

I’m not happy with either the categorical or the dimensional, or the various appraisal theories. But, at least they are theories. I think they are frequently compatible, neither of them seem to win.

Really, what I want is a more dynamical system account of emotions. But, I may muse on that one later.


About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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