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An emotion is a mental and physiological state associated with a wide variety of feelings, thoughts, and behavior.Emotions are subjective experiences, or experienced from an individual point of view. Emotion is often associated with mood, temperament, personality, and disposition. The English word 'emotion' is derived from the French word émouvoir. This is based on the Latin emovere, where e- (variant of ex-) means 'out' and movere means 'move'.Emotional Competency discussion of emotion The related term "motivation" is also derived from movere.

No definitive taxonomy of emotions exists, though numerous taxonomies have been proposed. Some categorizations include:

  • 'Cognitive' versus 'non-cognitive' emotions
  • Instinctual emotions (from the amygdala), versus cognitive emotions (from the prefrontal cortex).
  • Basic versus complex: where base emotions lead to more complex ones.
  • Categorization based on duration: Some emotions occur over a period of seconds (e.g. surprise) where others can last years (e.g. love).

For lessons on the topic of Emotion, follow this link.

A related distinction is between the emotion and the results of the emotion, principally behaviors and emotional expressions. People often behave in certain ways as a direct result of their emotional state, such as crying, fighting or fleeing. Yet again, if one can have the emotion without the corresponding behaviour then we may consider the behaviour not to be essential to the emotion. The James-Lange theory posits that emotional experience is largely due to the experience of bodily changes. The functionalist approach to emotions (e.g.,Nico Frijda) holds that emotions have evolved for a particular function, such as to keep the subject safe.


There has been considerable debate concerning how emotions should be classified. Firstly, are emotions distinctive discrete states or do they vary more smoothly along one or more underlying dimensions? The circumplex model of James Russell (1979) is an example of the latter, placing emotions along bi-polar dimensions of valence and arousal.

Another popular option is to divide emotions into basic and complex categories, where some basic emotions are modified in some way to form complex emotions. In one model, the complex emotions could arise from cultural conditioning or association combined with the basic emotions. Alternatively, analogous to the way primary colors combine, primary emotions could blend to form the full spectrum of human emotional experience. For example interpersonal anger and disgust could blend to form contempt.

Robert Plutchik proposed a three-dimensional "circumplex model" which describes the relations among emotions. This model is similar to a color wheel. The vertical dimension represents intensity, and the circle represents degrees of similarity among the emotions. He posited eight primary emotion dimensions arranged as four pairs of opposites. The Nature of Emotions Some have also argued for the existence of meta-emotions which are emotions about emotions.Jaeger, C., & Bartsch, A. (2006), "Meta-emotions". Grazer Philosophische Studien, 73, 179–204. In general discussion centres around which emotions or dimensions should be considered foundational. Combined views are also available.

Another important means of distinguishing emotions concerns their occurrence in time. Some emotions occur over a period of seconds (e.g. surprise) where others can last years (e.g. love). The latter could be regarded as a long term tendency to have an emotion regarding a certain object rather than an emotion proper (though this is disputed). A distinction is then made between emotion episodes and emotional dispositions. Dispositions are also comparable to character traits, where someone may be said to be generally disposed to experience certain emotions, though about different objects. For example an irritable person is generally disposed to feel irritation more easily or quickly than others do. Finally, some theorists (e.g. Klaus Scherer, 2005) place emotions within a more general category of 'affective states' where affective states can also include emotion-related phenomena such as pleasure and pain, motivational states (e.g. hunger or curiosity), moods, dispositions and traits.


Theories about emotions stretch back at least as far as the Ancient Greek Stoics, as well as Plato and Aristotle. We also see sophisticated theories in the works of philosophers such as René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza and David Hume. More recent theories of emotions tend to be informed by advances in empirical research. Often theories are not mutually exclusive and many researchers incorporate multiple perspectives in their work.

Somatic theories

Somatic theories of emotion claim that bodily responses rather than judgements are essential to emotions. The first modern version of such theories comes from William James in the 1880s. The theory lost favour in the 20th Century, but has regained popularity more recently due largely to theorists such as António Damásio, Joseph E. LeDoux and Robert Zajonc who are able to appeal to neurological evidence.

James-Lange theory

William James in the article 'What is an Emotion?' (Mind, 9, 1884: 188-205) argued that emotional experience is largely due to the experience of bodily changes, the Danish psychologist Carl Lange also proposed a similar theory at around the same time, so this position is known as the James-Lange Theory. This theory and its derivates state that a changed situation leads to a changed bodily state. As James says 'the perception of bodily changes as they occur IS the emotion.' James further claims that 'we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.'

This theory is supported by experiments in which by manipulating the bodily state, a desired emotion is induced. Such experiments also have therapeutic implications (e.g. in [laughter therapy, dance therapy). The James-Lange theory is often misunderstood because it seems counter-intuitive. Most people believe that emotions give rise to emotion-specific actions: i.e. "I'm crying because I'm sad," or "I ran away because I was scared." The James-Lange theory, conversely, asserts that first we react to a situation (running away and crying happen before the emotion), and then we interpret our actions into an emotional response. In this way, emotions serve to explain and organize our own actions to us.

Neurobiological theories

Based on discoveries made through neural mapping of the limbic system, the neurobiological explanation of human emotion is that emotion is a pleasant or unpleasant mental state organized in the limbic system of the mammalian brain. If distinguished from reactive responses of reptiles, emotions would then be mammalian elaborations of general vertebrate arousal patterns, in which neurochemicals (e.g., dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin) step-up or step-down the brain's activity level, as visible in body movements, gestures, and postures. In mammals, primates, and human beings, feelings are displayed as emotion cues.

For example, the human emotion of love is proposed to have evolved from paleocircuits of the mammalian brain (specifically, modules of the cingulated gyrus) designed for the care, feeding, and grooming of offspring. Paleocircuits are neural platforms for bodily expression configured millions of years before the advent of cortical circuits for speech. They consist of pre-configured pathways or networks of nerve cells in the forebrain, brain stem and spinal cord. They evolved prior to the earliest mammalian ancestors, as far back as the jawless fishes, to control motor function.

Presumably, before the mammalian brain, life in the non-verbal world was automatic, preconscious, and predictable. The motor centers of reptiles react to sensory cues of vision, sound, touch, chemistry, gravity, and motion with pre-set body movements and programmed postures. With the arrival of night-active mammals, circa 180 + million years ago, smell replaced vision as the dominant sense, and a different way of responding arose from the olfactory sense, which is proposed to have developed into mammalian emotion and emotional memory. In the Jurassic Period, the mammalian brain invested heavily in olfaction to succeed at night as reptiles slept — one explanation for why olfactory lobes in mammalian brains are proportionally larger than in the reptiles. These odor pathways gradually formed the neural blueprint for what was later to become our limbic brain.

Emotions are thought to be related to activity in brain areas that direct our attention, motivate our behavior, and determine the significance of what is going on around us. Pioneering work by Paul Broca (1878), James Papez (1937), and Paul D. MacLean (1952) suggested that emotion is related to a group of structures in the center of the brain called the limbic system, which includes the hypothalamus, cingulate cortex, hippocampi, and other structures. More recent research has shown that some of these limbic structures are not as directly related to emotion as others are, while some non-limbic structures have been found to be of greater emotional relevance.

Cognitive theories

There are a number of theories of emotions that argue that cognitive activity in the form of judgements, evaluations, or thoughts are necessary in order for an emotion to occur. This is necessary to address the fact that emotions are about something or have intentionality. Such cognitive activity may be conscious or unconscious and may or may not take the form of conceptual processing. An influential theory here is that of Richard Lazarus (1991). A prominent philosophical exponent is Robert C. Solomon (e.g. The Passions, Emotions and the Meaning of Life, 1993). The theory proposed by Nico Frijda where appraisal leads to action tendencies is another example.

Perceptual theory

A recent hybrid of the somatic and cognitive theories of emotion is the perceptual theory. This theory is neo-Jamesian in arguing that bodily responses are central to emotions, yet it emphasises the meaningfulness of emotions or the idea that emotions are about something, as is recognised by cognitive theories. The novel claim of this theory is that conceptually based cognition is unnecessary for such meaning. Rather the bodily changes themselves perceive the meaningful content of the emotion as a result of being causally triggered by certain situations. In this respect emotions are held to be analogous to faculties such as vision or touch, which provide information about the relation between the subject and the world in various ways. A sophisticated defense of this view is found in philosopher Jesse Prinz's book Gut Reactions (2004) and psychologist James Laird's book Feelings: The Perception of Self (2007). Related views are also found in the work of Peter Goldie and Ronald de Sousa.

Affective Events Theory

The Affective Events Theory is a communication-based theory developed by Howard M. Weiss and Russell Cropanzano (1996), that looks at the causes, structures, and consequences of emotional experience (especially in work contexts.) This theory suggests that emotions are influenced and caused by events which in turn influence attitudes and behaviors. This theoretical frame also emphasizes time in that human beings experience what they call emotion episodes - a “series of emotional states extended over time and organized around an underlying theme” (Weiss & Beal, 2005, p. 6). This theory has been utilized by numerous researchers to better understand emotion from a communicative lens, and was reviewed further by Howard M. Weiss and Daniel J. Beal in their article, Reflections on Affective Events Theory published in Research on Emotion in Organizations in 2005.

Cannon-Bard theory

In the Cannon-Bard theory, Walter Bradford Cannon argued against the dominance of the James-Lange theory regarding the physiological aspects of emotions in the second edition of Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage. Where James argued that emotional behaviour often precedes or defines the emotion, Cannon and Bard argued that the emotion arises first and then stimulates typical behaviour.

Two-factor theory

Another cognitive theory is the Two factor theory of emotion. This is based on experiments purportedly showing that subjects can have different emotional reactions despite being placed into the same physiological state with an injection of adrenaline. Subjects were observed to express either anger or amusement depending on whether another person in the situation displayed that emotion. Hence the combination of the appraisal of the situation (cognitive) and whether participants received adrenaline or a placebo together determined the response. This experiment has been criticized in Jesse Prinz (2004) Gut Reactions.

Component process model

A recent version of the cognitive theory comes from Klaus Scherer which regards emotions more broadly as the synchronization of many different bodily and cognitive components. Emotions are identified with the overall process whereby low level cognitive appraisals, in particular the processing of relevance, trigger bodily reactions, behaviors, feelings, and actions.

Disciplinary approaches

Many different disciplines have produced work on the emotions. Human sciences study the role of emotions in mental processes, disorders, and neural mechanisms. In psychiatry, emotions are examined as part of the discipline's study and treatment of mental disorders in humans. Psychology examines emotions from a scientific perspective by treating them as mental processes and behavior and they explore the underlying physiological and neurological processes. In neuroscience sub-fields such as affective neuroscience, scientists study the neural mechanisms of emotion by combining neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood. In linguistics, the expression of emotion may change to the meaning of sounds. In education, the role of emotions in relation to learning are examined.

Social sciences often examine emotion for the role that it plays in human culture and social interactions. In sociology, emotions are examined for the role they play in human society, social patterns and interactions, and culture. In anthropology, the study of humanity, scholars use ethnography to undertake contextual analyses and cross-cultural comparisons of a range of human activities; some anthropology studies examine the role of emotions in human activities. In the field of communication sciences, critical organizational scholars have examined the role of emotions in organizations, from the perspectives of managers, employees, and even customers. A focus on emotions in organizations can be credited to Arlie Russell Hochschild's concept of emotional labor. The University of Queensland host's EmoNet([1]), an email distribution list comprised of a network of academics that facilitates scholarly discussion of all matters relating to the study of emotion in organizational settings. The list was established in January, 1997 and has over 700 members from across the globe.

In economics, the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, emotions are analyzed in some sub-fields of microeconomics, in order to assess the role of emotions on purchase decision-making and risk perception. In criminology, a social science approach to the study of crime, scholars often draw on behavioral sciences, sociology, and psychology; emotions are examined in criminology issues such as anomie theory and studies of "toughness", aggressive behavior, and hooliganism. In law, which underpins civil obedience, politics, economics and society, evidence about people's emotions is often raised in tort law claims for compensation and in criminal law prosecutions against alleged lawbreakers (as evidence of the defendant's state of mind during trials, sentencing, and parole hearings). In political science, emotions are examined in a number of sub-fields, such as the analysis of voter decision-making.

In philosophy, emotions are studied in sub-fields such as ethics, the philosophy of art (e.g., sensory-emotional values, and matters of taste and sentiment), and the philosophy of music. In history, scholars examine documents and other sources to interpret and analyze past activities; speculation on the emotional state of the authors of historical documents is one of the tools of interpretation. In literature and film-making, the expression of emotion is the cornerstone of genres such as drama, melodrama, and romance. In communication studies, scholars study the role that emotion plays in the dissemination of ideas and messages. Emotion is also studied in non-human animals in ethology, a branch of zoology which focuses on the scientific study of animal behavior. Ethology is a combination of laboratory and field science, with strong ties to ecology and evolution. Ethologists often study one type of behavior (e.g. aggression) in a number of unrelated animals.

Evolutionary biology

Perspectives on emotions from evolution theory were initiated in the late 19th century with Charles Darwin's book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Darwin's original thesis was that emotions evolved via natural selection and therefore have cross-culturally universal counterparts. Furthermore animals undergo emotions comparable to our own. Evidence of universality in the human case has been provided by Paul Ekman's seminal research on facial expression. Other research in this area focuses on physical displays of emotion including body language of animals and humans (see affect display). The increased potential in neuroimaging has also allowed investigation into evolutionarily ancient parts of the brain. Important neurological advances were made from this perspectives in the 1990s by, for example ,Joseph E. LeDoux and António Damásio.

American evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers argues that moral emotions are based on the principal of reciprocal altruism. The notion of group selection is of particular relevance. This theory posits the different emotions have different reciprocal effects. Sympathy prompts a person to offer the first favor, particularly to someone in need for whom the help would go the furthest. Anger protects a person against cheaters who accept a favor without reciprocating, by making him want to punish the ingrate or sever the relationship. Gratitude impels a beneficiary to reward those who helped him in the past. Finally, guilt prompts a cheater who is in danger of being found out, by making them want to repair the relationship by redressing the misdeed. As well, guilty feelings encourage a cheater who has been caught to advertise or promise that he will behave better in the future.


We try to regulate our emotions to fit in with the norms of the situation, based on many - sometimes conflicting - demands upon us which originate from various entities studied by sociology on a micro level -- such as social roles and 'feeling rules' the everyday social interactions and situations are shaped by -- and, on a macro level, by social institutions, discourses, ideologies etc. For example, (post-)modern marriage is, on one hand, based on the emotion of love and on the other hand the very emotion is to be worked on and regulated by it. The sociology of emotions also focuses on general attitude changes in a population. Emotional appeals are commonly found in advertising, health campaigns and political messages. Recent examples include no-smoking health campaigns and political campaign advertising emphasizing the fear of terrorism.


Depending on the particular school's general emphasis either on cognitive component of emotion, physical energy discharging, or on symbolic movement and facial expression components of emotion, different schools of psychotherapy approach human emotions differently. While, for example, the school of Re-evaluation Counseling propose that distressing emotions are to be relieved by "discharging" them - hence crying, laughing, sweating, shaking, and trembling.Counseling recovery processes - RC website Other more cognitively oriented schools approach them via their cognitive components, such as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Yet other approach emotions via symbolic movement and facial expression components (like in contemporary gestalt therapyOn Emotion - an article from Manchester Gestalt Centre website.

Computer science

In the 2000s, in research in computer science, engineering, psychology and neuroscience has been aimed at developing devices that recognize human affect display and model emotions (Fellous, Armony & LeDoux, 2002). In computer science, affective computing is a branch of the study and development of artificial intelligence that deals with the design of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, and process human emotions. It is an interdisciplinary field spanning computer sciences, psychology, and cognitive science.Abstract),

Detecting emotional information begins with passive sensors which capture data about the user's physical state or behavior without interpreting the input. The data gathered is analogous to the cues humans use to perceive emotions in others. Another area within affective computing is the design of computational devices proposed to exhibit either innate emotional capabilities or that are capable of convincingly simulating emotions. Emotional speech processing recognizes the user's emotional state by analyzing speech patterns. The detection and processing of facial expression or body gestures is achieved through detectors and sensors.


Before Pentecost the apostles had given up much for Jesus. They had sacrificed their homes, families, friends, worldly goods, and positions. At Pentecost they gave themselves to God, and the Father and the Son responded by giving themselves to man--sending their spirits to live within men. This experience of losing self and finding the spirit was not one of emotion; it was an act of intelligent self-surrender and unreserved consecration.[2]


  1. Emotional Competency discussion of emotion
  2. The Nature of Emotions
  3. Jaeger, C., & Bartsch, A. (2006), "Meta-emotions". Grazer Philosophische Studien, 73, 179–204.
  4. See Philip Fisher (1999) Wonder, The Rainbow and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences for an introduction
  5. See for instance Antonio Damasio (2005) Looking for Spinoza.
  6. See James Laird Feelings; The Perception of Self (Oxford: Oxford University press, 2007) for a review of hundreds of experiments confirming this.
  7. Darwin, Charles (1872). The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Note: This book was originally published in 1872, but has been reprinted many times thereafter by different publishers
  8. Counseling recovery processes - RC website
  9. On Emotion - an article from Manchester Gestalt Centre website
  10. Tao, Jianhua; Tieniu Tan (2005). "Affective Computing: A Review". Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction LNCS 3784: 981–995, Springer. doi:10.1007/11573548.
  11. James, William (1884). "What is Emotion". Mind 9: 188–205. Cited by Tao and Tan.
  12. "Affective Computing" MIT Technical Report #321 (Abstract), 1995
  13. Kleine-Cosack, Christian (October 2006). "Recognition and Simulation of Emotions" (PDF). [3]. "The introduction of emotion to computer science was done by Pickard (sic) who created the field of affective computing."
  14. Diamond, David (December 2003). "The Love Machine; Building computers that care.". Wired. [4]. Rosalind Picard, a genial MIT professor, is the field's godmother; her 1997 book, Affective Computing, triggered an explosion of interest in the emotional side of computers and their users."

Further reading

  • Cornelius, R. (1996). The science of emotion. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Freitas-Magalhães, A. (2007).The Psychology of Emotions: The Allure of Human Face. Oporto: University Fernando Pessoa Press.
  • Ekman, P. (1999). "Basic Emotions". In: T. Dalgleish and M. Power (Eds.). Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Sussex, UK:.
  • Frijda, N. H. (1986). The Emotions. Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and Cambridge University Press. [5]
  • Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feelings. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • LeDoux, J. E. (1986). The neurobiology of emotion. Chap. 15 in J E. LeDoux & W. Hirst (Eds.) Mind and Brain: dialogues in cognitive neuroscience. New York: Cambridge.
  • Plutchik, R. (1980). A general psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. In R. Plutchik & H. Kellerman (Eds.), Emotion: Theory, research, and experience: Vol. 1. Theories of emotion (pp. 3–33). New York: Academic.
  • Scherer, K. (2005). What are emotions and how can they be measured? Social Science Information Vol. 44, No. 4: 695-729.
  • Solomon, R. (1993). The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
  • Wikibook Cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience

External links