emotion theories

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  • 1. Emotion Theories Ali Patrice Seyed SNeRG 2/8/2008


    • What is its nature, what is its role in human life?
    • Plato
      • emotions are dangerous for achieving true knowledge because they can overcome and subvert reason and the intellect
      • Emotive and cognitive aspects of human understanding were seen as in opposition
  • Philosophy


  • Stoicism
    • Emotion is a judgment that is wrong, untrustworthy and incorrect
    • Minimize confusion by cultivating more detached states.
  • Aristotle
    • Emotion is part of moral/character only when in balance.
  • Kant
    • A moral decision cannot be made on emotion.
  • Hume
    • Defines emotions as impressions which is his term for conscious feelings.
    • Although reason can judge notions, ideas and matters of fact, the most noticeable results never persuade us to action as much as the slightest emotion or feeling can do.

4. Descartes

  • Located in the soul, the seat of consciousness
  • Called passions because the soul is passive in relation to them
  • species of perception perceptions of the soul, caused/changed by movement of the spirits
  • Differ from sensory perceptions, which have external objects
    • Passions are related to the soul.
  • Distinguished from desires, which are caused by the soul itself.

5. Descartes (cont.)

  • Their causation in the condition of the body gives them an inertia that lends agents a capacity for follow through more consistently on their intentions.
    • A motivator to guide in the face of shifting thoughts.
  • Activity of the body that affects the soul.


  • Social psychology
      • Expressed emotion as communication in group settings
  • Folk psychology
      • Ungrounded in scientific study, based on assumptions of common sense
  • Neuropsychology
      • Relationship between brain functioning and psychological processes
        • Psychological tasks during brain imaging techniques (fMRI, MEG, EEG).
    • Psychology


  • Cognitive neuropsychology
      • Branch of neuropsychology dealing with studying the cognitive effects of brain injury in support of models of normal brain functioning
  • Damasio
      • Brain lesions to emotion centers have a practical cost
      • Emotion different but evaluated by criteria that is connected to reason
      • Some emotions are grounded by belief, but not belief themselves.
      • Holds "that our most refined thoughts and best actions, our greatest joys and deepest sorrows, use the body as a yardstick"

8. Damasio (cont.)

  • Phineas Gage case study, railway worked with steel rod through the pre-frontal lobe region
  • After the accident Gages personality change, became more child-like and impulsive, the shrewd businessman his friends knew before the accident was no longer.
  • He was incapable of making good and effective decisions, although his memory, language and traditional notions of intelligence were untouched.
  • Kierkegaard and Heidegger hold that without care, concern, and interest, nothing would be salient, indeed the world would have no categories.

9. Somatic Feeling Theory

  • Rooted in work by William James
  • Emotions are just the feelings of certain bodily changes as a result of perception of some fact
  • our feelings of the changes as they occur is the emotion

10. Somatic Feeling Theory

  • Part of the nervous system that receives information about the muscles of the body
      • Perception of the Object -> Change in bodily state -> Feeling of bodily change (The emotion)
      • James, Damasio: emotion is experiences of changes in the body.
      • Damasio:
        • Emotions can register changes in the levels of chemicals in the brain (e.g. changes in hormone levels caused by the endocrine system).
        • Emotional response can occur in the absence of bodily changes when brain centers ordinarily associated with bodily change are active
          • Sensory areas of the brain can be activated endogenously, Damasio calls this pathway the as-if loop.
          • Emotions can bypass the body altogether, somatic brain centers become active when we imagine undergoing an emotion.

11. Somatic Feeling Theory

      • Emotional feelings are feelings of bodily changes, but emotions are not exhausted by feelings.
      • For definitional purposes, I liken emotional feelings to sensory awareness or more accurately conscious perception of the condition known as an emotion. Feelings of the condition of ones body.
        • Unconscious neural responses to changes in bodily states count as emotions for Damasio.
      • Therefore, Damasio holds:
        • A somatic theory of emotion
        • A somatic theory of emotional feelings
        • BUT NOT a somatic feeling theory of emotion
          • Emotion need not be consciously observed.
          • Can bypass the body (bodily changes through sensory input) and also bypass consciousness

12. Somatic Feeling Theory

  • Darwin observed the connection b/w body changes and emotion.
    • Our hair stands on end when afraid: in earlier, hairier mammals this would have increased apparent body size, scaring off predators.
  • Darwin inspires not only this link, but also that one may identify emotions with behaviors to which bodily changes dispose us.
    • In essence, we attach emotion to its effect rather than the root cause

13. Damasios Somatic Theory Perceptionof the object Changes inbodily state Perception of bodily change The emotion As-if loop 14. Somatic Feeling Theory

  • Emotions are therefore cognitive representations of body states that are part of a homeostatic mechanism by which the internal milieu is monitored and controlled, and by which this internal milieu influences behavior of the whole organism.
  • Emotions are a result of nerve activation patterns and subsequent bodily changes

15. Behavioral conditioning theory

  • Watson: emotions are not behavioral dispositions but rather are behavioral responses to reward/punishments.
  • Naturally behaviorists do not appeal to inner states.
  • Rolls holds that emotions are the responses to rewards and punishment, but regards emotions as internal states.

16. Processing mode theory

  • Emotions lead to systematic changes in faculties of attention, memory, and reasoning.
    • Impacts our overall processing
      • E.g. sadness makes us pessimistic and sensitive to our flaws.
  • Oatley, Johnson, and Laird argue this applies to an important set of emotions: anger, anxiety, happiness, and sadness.

17. A pure cognitive theory of emotion

  • Emotions are identical to thoughts.
    • Solomon: Evaluative judgments that provide the structure of our world.
    • Although judgments do not cover desires or wishes.
      • Gordon: emotions involve wish-frustration or wish-satisfaction.
    • Philosophers hold that the word cognitive pertains only to beliefs or judgments, and construals/desire theories do not qualify as pure cognitive theories of emotion, unless desires are reducible to beliefs.

18. Hybrid theories

  • Cognitive labeling theory : If you fail to assign emotional signi


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