PSYC18 - Psychology of Emotion
Professor: Gerald Cupchik T.A.: Michelle Hilscher
Office Hours: Thurs. 10-11, 2-3 Office Hours: Thurs. 10-11, 2-3
Course Website: www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~cupchik
TVO FINALS LECTURE 2008
“Two Faces of Emotion:
Actions and Reactions”
I - BASIC QUESTIONS
Scholars and people in everyday life share an interest in the topic of
emotion, but ask different kinds of questions.
People in their everyday lives ask very practical questions about their
own emotions and those of others.
“How can I better deal with my emotions?”
“Can I learn to recognize the emotions of others more accurately?”
“Why can‟t I remember how I felt in such and such a
Psychologists and philosophers are interested in answering
fundamental questions such as:
“What is an emotion?”
“What are the relations between feelings and emotions?”
“How has evolution shaped emotion?”
I want to address both of these types of questions.
Of course, philosophers and psychologists did not „discover‟ emotions,
which are embodied in the myths and narratives of different cultures.
In the West, religious texts such as the Bible and Koran are replete with
stories about conflict, fear, envy, and grace… events and situations
which can stimulate our reflections upon life and, where relevant, a
person‟s relationship with G-d.
II – A FRAMEWORK FOR DISCUSSING EMOTION
“Emotion” emerges as a unique concept in the 18th century.
Before the mid-18th century, scholars wrote about the passions rather
than about emotions as such. These passions were tied to the fate of
In the mid-1700s, emotion becomes part of secular, in other words,
non-religious discourse. Samuel Johnson (1755) defined emotion as a
“disturbance of mind; vehemence of passion, pleasing or painful.”
Accordingly, emotions were seen as e-motions that could put a person
off course and disorient proper judgment.
This secularization of thinking about emotion in Western Europe can be
linked to an increasing interest in the individual self as a force within
In the mid to later 19th century, with Darwin‟s influence and
developments in physiology of the human body, the idea of „having
emotions‟ rode to fame on a bodily horse.
Some scholars set the brain as a centre that controls emotion.
Others, like William James, proposed that emotions reflect our bodily
gut reactions and expressive reactions to events.
Some Basic Principles
First, emotions exist on their own as independent phenomena… we
feel happy or sad or angry. These emotions are very real experiences
Second, emotions cannot exist without some kind of thought
processes. So emotion and cognition are not diametrically opposed.
After all, we have emotions about something and so we have to
interpret situations or reach back into our memories to
reconstruct situations and the feelings that they engendered.
Third, emotions also pertain to bodily states that we can feel.
Feelings are fundamental.
We can say, “I feel pleasure or pain, nervous or excited.” We
can feel our bodily states…
Fourth, emotions are more abstract than feelings and pertain to the
You can feel states of pleasure, pain, or excitement. But you
cannot say, “I am pleasure, pain, or excitement.” You can only
say, “I am happy, sad, angry, frightened, disgusted” and so on.
These emotions pertain to me… to my self. In a sense, you
don‟t just feel it, you are it!
Emotions exist as independent phenomena which are related to the self
involving both thought and bodily responses to social or physical events
III – TWO CONTRASTING LIFE THEMES
There are two contrasting life themes which have an important impact
on emotions: Adaptation and The Search for Meaning
Adaptation as a Life Theme
The theme of adaptation is very concrete and is linked with action.
It was highlighted in the Darwinian revolution and applies to all living
species; vegetable, animal and human.
This theme links us with our evolutionary past and by this I really mean
our “animal past”… our struggle for survival.
We are always engaged in an attempt to confront challenges, address
needs, and achieve goals.
At a fundamental level, bodily needs are linked with hunger, thirst,
sexual drive, and so on.
At a more complex social level, needs are associated with affiliation,
power, achievement, and so forth.
What is the Role of Emotion Here?
Originally, emotions were tied to wired-in instincts in the animal world
so that particular kinds of cues elicit emotions that facilitate survival and
reproduction through the life cycle.
A predator evokes fear so that the animal can escape and live another
In the mating context, what appears like anger or rage establishes
dominance and thereby maintains a social hierarchy with the result that
the strongest reproduce.
In the reproduction context, acts of caring foster attachment between
parent and newborn.
Adaptation in humans carries these emotions and feelings to a more
sophisticated level reflecting the increased complexity of social
situations that require interpretation.
Adaptation requires skills of appraisal and an ability to implement
The Search for Meaning as a Life Theme
The search for meaning in life is what separates us from the animal
world – it relies on an ability to reflect.
It enables us to come to terms with the uniqueness of our
experiences… to understand these experiences… to place them in the
context of critical life situations.
We don‟t really appraise these situations and events in terms of their
relative benefit for us.
Rather, we interpret them… we respond spontaneously and very
rapidly to them… we resonate to them with our whole bodies.
In contrast to the process of adaptation, where strategy addresses
needs and challenges, the effort after meaning is a more interpretive
and constructive process.
It can be shaped by either personal or collective interpretations of
Complex emotions, such as ecstasy or vexation, or blends of emotion,
such as happiness and sadness, reflect responses to the unique
meanings of situations and events for each of us.
Our powerful reactions to situations that don‟t affect others in the same
way are like the tip of the iceberg that takes us dep into our life
We achieve perspective on our lives when we can relate emotional
experiences to our personal histories and their original contexts.
This act of contextualizing the roots of our emotions is central to
When we are clear about these contexts, we gain closure and are no
longer bound by our emotions… slaves to our passions.
In other words, we learn to appreciate ourselves in a more abstract
way; accepting our emotional experiences but realizing that their origins
lie elsewhere… earlier in our lives or those of others with whom we
share a cultural background. And we can accept ourselves at different
stages within our own lives.
IV – SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
A central point in this analysis is that emotion emerged as a concept in
Western European society during the past 300 years. It parallels the
secularization of society and an emphasis on the self.
There are two contrasting traditions in philosophy, art, and psychology
that emphasize either adaptation or the search for meaning.
Adaptation and Philosophy
Philosophers of the 18th Century Enlightenment in England, like John
Locke, set the stage for Darwin‟s emphasis on a struggle for survival.
They spelled out the dynamics surrounding the human process of
They focused on thoughts about the self and choices which „men‟
would have to make to maximize benefits.
Individuals were described as acting in a calculating manner based on
Events in the environment are appraised as facts to determine whether
or not they match our needs, concerns, and fears.
The resulting feelings of pain or pleasure provide feedback as to the
success or failure of their efforts.
So, feelings play an important role in this model because they provide
us with a sense for the success or failure of our adaptive efforts.
Feelings serve as the shadow of cognition!
Message: We must learn to be strategic to accurately appraise our
stimulus environment and then engage in concrete actions that help us
resolve our interests and concerns.
Adaptation and the Arts
The aesthetics of the Enlightenment stressed manipulating an
audience‟s imagination and emotions. This could be accomplished by
carefully selecting subject matter that represented universally shared
natural and social worlds.
In art, the goal was to create an accurate illusion of the natural world,
governed by laws of causality, that could be immediately apprehended
in a single glance.
In drama, French neoclassicism emphasized the importance of the
three unities of time, place, and action in determining dramatic illusion.
Illusion in theatre involved a kind of passive response in which the
audience responds “in sympathy with increasing emotional stimulation
until reason surrenders to the force of the passions.”
Today, people can manipulate their own affective states. When we are
bored, we can choose to read books or watch films that are filled with
uncertainty and suspense. When we want to feel connection, we might
select books or films with a more romantic theme.
In other words, we can intentionally choose materials that will modulate
our affective states.
Our research has shown that
people in a negative affect state
prefer artworks that express
emotion in a direct and readily
Adaptation and Psychology
There is a clear continuity over 300 years from the Enlightenment to
modern mechanistic psychology associated with linear thought.
The three traditions included in this view are:
Centralism – Behaviourism/Functionalism – Cognitivism
19th century Centralism holds that emotion is located in and shaped
directly by centres in the brain. The brain, in essence, guides and
controls emotional processes.
Functionalism appeared at the turn of the 20th century and held that
emotions have adaptive value as automatic responses to threatening
events in the environment.
Behaviourism, which emerged as a viewpoint in the early 1900s,
treated emotion as primarily disruptive and disregarded it as a unique
phenomenon. Rather, in accordance with the formula: Emotion =
Cognition + Arousal, it emphasized the evaluation of situational factors
as either beneficial or harmful and attributed a potentially energizing
and attention focusing quality to moderate levels of bodily excitation.
Cognitivism elaborates on the process of evaluation within a logical
and sequential paradigm having to do with the resolution of needs or
concerns through pragmatic action.
The Search for Meaning and Philosophy
The importance of imagination and emotional experience is central in
Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to this humanistic, organic and open-ended viewpoint,
experience is constantly changing and the person is perpetually
The Romantics developed a cult of feeling that would counter a world
ruled by reason in which all subjects could be considered.
They wanted to achieve an intellectual appreciation of human
experience facilitated by intense feelings.
The sacred power of individual unique consciousness is affirmed and
life episodes become the focus since all humans have the capacity for
intense and honest feelings.
The Experience of Meaning in Art
German Romantic dramatists, like Johann Schlegel (1719-1749)
believed that theatrical drama should reflect the social realities and
historical traditions of the audience and also heighten social
By selecting critical moments in life and expressing them in carefully
fashioned dialogue, playwrights can expose the hidden workings of a
character‟s mind. The unity of action is more important than the unities
of time and place.
By providing a meaningful context to account for action, the author
brings coherence and meaning to the audience‟s experience.
August Schlegel (1767-1845) saw dramatic illusion as a “waking
dream, to which we voluntarily surrender ourselves.” He included
audience participation as an important aspect of theatre and added that
their awareness of participating in sustaining the illusion contributes to
the overall aesthetic process.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), the English critic and poet,
described aesthetic illusion as the product of a “willing suspension of
disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” The logic of the
imagination provides a basis for the fluid continuity of conscious
In our experimental work, we have found that viewers and readers can
develop deep relationships with texts, artworks, and industrial design
People can feel a personal relationship with creative works, see them
as an expression of their identities, or as embodiments of idealized
social values and messages.
Encounters with artworks can simulate reflections about personal
growth and encourage people to come to terms with their personal or
collective histories. In the search for meaning, people encounter not
just the artists but themselves.
Some artworks that relate to the search for meaning…
Some artworks that relate to the search for meaning…
The Experience of Meaning in Psychology
The Romantic viewpoint is embodied in a more organic and [w]holistic
approach in psychology with three major traditions:
Peripheralism – Psychodynamism – Existential Psychology
Peripheralism originated in the later 1800s with William James who
founded American psychology. In an attempt to unify body and mind,
peripheralism holds that emotion is shaped by feedback from changes
in the viscera (heart, lungs, gut) and expressive responses in the face
and body to significant affect evoking events.
Psychodynamism is the idea, folllowing in the Freudian tradition, that
critical emotional episodes in our lives have a long term impact so that
when we substantially encounter events like them, we re-experience
The unconscious plays a role here because emotions which are too
powerful and unpleasant can be repressed and become difficult to
access. The challenge of therapy is to have clients find a narrative that
links critical early life experiences to current and sometimes
Existential phenomenology is concerned with the structure of
experience in relation to being and becoming. It holds that significant
life experiences are associated with intensifications, distortions or
transformations in our experiences of time, space, causality, sensory
awareness and connection with others. Like the style of a painting,
these transformations become the crucible within which life‟s narratives
Feelings shape the form of our emotions.
V – TWO CONTRASTING EMOTIONAL STYLES IN LIFE
With the increasing secularization of Western European society over
the past 300 years, “emotion” has emerged as a phenomenon
associated with an individual‟s self. It is a phenomenon integrating mind
and body, one that is not passively undergone but which results from
the interpretation of personally and collectively meaningful situations.
We can see, however, that there are two very different approaches to
this phenomenon, one emphasizing adaptation and the other a search
A rational approach, associated with the Enlightenment, is strategic and
relates to an adaptive appraisal of environmental options to outcomes
which can be felt along a pain-pleasure dimension.
A romantic approach, associated with German Romanticism, is holistic
and emphasizes a spontaneous and expressive reaction to personally
meaningful situations and events.
These contrasting approaches to emotion are embodied in very
different emotional styles in everyday life. Some people appear better
at adaptation whereas others are more disposed to a search for
meaning in emotional experiences.
I‟m now going to describe these styles; their upsides and down sides.
“Adaptation-oriented” people appraise their worlds in a very precise
manner, matching things (people, objects and events) against their
needs and concerns.
They work efficiently; their attention focused and energy mobilized. In
the extreme, think of the Type-A personality.
They closely monitor their reactions as well, the feelings or pain or
pleasure that follow from the careful execution of strategies or plans.
These feelings help them to choose their next move.
But they also restrain or suppress potentially distracting emotions. After
all, you can‟t make a good and rational decision if you are distracted by
That raises a good question:
Can adaptation-oriented persons get stuck in their mode (or mold) and
have trouble finding their emotions? Always being rational at the front
end of stimulus analysis but unable to find emotion at the back end of
Too much objectivity… too much restraint!
The adaptation-oriented person risks being lost in objectivity. This
person must reawaken to the depth and unique nature of life‟s
situations… to slow the disposition to evaluate things and events in
terms of good or bad utility… to search for the structure and meaning
embedded within individual events.
“Meaning-oriented” people respond to situations in a deep and personal
way. Powerful events can hit them like a tsunami and elicit strong
emotions. These events are rich in substance and structure… not just
passing stimuli… complex meanings related to family and friends,
related to the group with which one identifies so strongly… with its
history and very soul!
These emotional experiences have a strong bodily component both
somatic and expressive; they feel their gut responses… they feel the
sadness in their own faces.
But they can feel overcome and sometimes even overwhelmed.
They can also be trapped in these emotions which, after all, are based
on interpretations of life events and not on absolute truth which is how it
might feel to them.
The meaning-oriented person risks being lost in subjectivity, weighted
down by emotions that so powerfully affect them… not being able to
stand outside themselves and see the intensity of it all… and the
possible arbitrariness of interpretation shaped by earlier life
experiences with which they have lost touch.
It may help this person to realize that there are different ways to
construe or understand situations and that there is no one fixed or
correct way of doing so. In other words, there are different ways of
constructing meaning, different contexts into which events might be
placed… some shared with others… some that are unique to each of
VI – REVIEW
So we have a layer cake of two traditions reaching back 300 years in
Western European culture.
Adaptation and Search for Meaning
Two Intellectual Traditions:
Enlightenment Realism and Romantic Emotionalism
Two Traditions in Psychology:
Two Personal Styles:
Restrained Adaptation and an Expressive Search for Meaning
VII – A NEW PARADIGM
How do we bring balance into our lives and unity to these contrasting
intellectual traditions and ways of being-in-the-world?
We have been looking at emotion within the framework of contrasts and
now we will look at emotion such that the separate processes are
integrated one within the other while preserving the potential for
The paradigm of complementarity: Every challenge has a silver lining!
In a sense, we bring an Eastern view to our Western way of living.
Complementary Relations Between Adaptation and the Search for
I have talked about these two themes as if they were unrelated… as
And yet, one lies within the other…
Is it not true that in an effort to adapt to a new society, to a changing
society, people have to understand the different meanings in that
Isn‟t it also true that, in our search for meaning, we must come to terms
with the challenges and rapid changes to which we must adapt as time
The same principles apply to societies as well as individuals. The
multicultural as well as the society in transition must address both ways
of being-in-the-world. This creates a dynamic energy which can help
both the society and the individual to achieve a new level of integration.
We need to face the challenges in our lives and yet realize how actively
involved we are in the construction of personal and collective meaning.
We need to balance objective detachment and subjective engagement.
We need to see the many layered nature of our own being-in-the-world;
a world of situations, and one in which we ourselves can evolve over
Continuing from last week…
FUNCTIONALIST APPROACH TO EMOTION
“WHAT WORKS, IS!”
This reflects a pragmatic interest in activities of the mind and body in
adapting to the environment.
William James (1890)
– consider the TOTAL SITUATION
THE 3RD PHASE OF ACTION THEORY
1920 - PRESENT
The Wittenberg Symposium on Feelings & Emotion
October, 1927 at Wittenberg College in Ohio
Published as a book in 1928 by Martin Reymert
“What is above all important to an organism is action.”
(Edouard Claparède, 1928)
“The press throughout the country carried daily accounts of the
sessions. Many important publications sent special representatives to
report the proceedings.”
(Reymert, 1928, p.ix)
ACTION THEORY IN THE 20TH CENTURY REFLECTS TWO OLD THEMES:
(1) During the Enlightenment the focus was on the effects of internal desires.
(2) After Darwin the emphasis was on adaptation to environmental demands.
It emphasizes the “capacity to strive toward an end or ends, to seek
goals, to sustain and renew activity adopted to secure consequences
beneficial to the organism or the species.
“…feeling and emotion are incidental to the striving activity, the
conations of the organism” and “are distinguished in terms of the
conative activities which they accompany.”
Specific emotions are the affective phases of specific instincts.
“Instincts are equivalent to muscular reactions and emotions are
equivalent to visceral reactions”
For Aristotle, “feeling is controlled chiefly by success or failure in the
realization of purpose, conscious or unconscious, …pleasure as the
accompaniment of unimpeded activity”.
It is evident in lower species, such as bees or ants, whose adaptive
habit patterns of the nervous system are reflexive, automatic, routine
“Conation - an experienced act, mental or bodily, of doing (striving or
The order of events in emotion would seem to be:
1. Cognition of a significant stimulus
2. Conative „set‟ towards it (action readiness)
3. The „stirred-up‟ characteristic of emotion proper
Therefore, “since the somatic resonance is regularly subsequent to the
conation, conation is the cause of emotion”
In fact, “an immediate, effective, and well-coordinated response prevents
the arousal of an emotional reaction.”
This highlights the “orderly and coordinated character of non-emotional
adjustments as opposed to the relatively uncoordinated and somewhat
chaotic course of events in the emotional reactions.”
Motor Psychology - Margaret Washburn
1. “Consciousness has at its disposal certain motor
processes… motor phenomena… motor
accompaniment of thinking rather than sensation...”
2. The “motor accompaniment of thinking, as
distinguished from sensation, has slight, incipient or
tentative muscular reactions to a situation… but
which as only tentatively performed are a kind of
rehearsal of the reactions…”
3. “All thinking involves…organization of tentative
movements into systems” and the “persistent
influence of an idea of an end or purpose that is due to
an association with a persistent bodily attitude or
static movement system…activity attitude” - “feeling
We see here a focus on the response side of adaptation… rather than on
WHEN DOES AN EMOTION OCCUR?
“Emotions occur precisely when adaptation is hindered for any reason
whatever. The man who can run away does not have the emotion of
fear… Fear occurs only when flight is impossible.”
Emotion is “a confusion of instinct, a miscarriage of instinct”.
Emotion is “useless” or “harmful” and “from the functional point of view,
appears to be a regression of conduct”.
WHEN DOES AN EMOTION OCCUR?
John Dewey (1894, 1895) provided the first “unambiguous statement of a
functional theory of the emotions.”
1. Emotional behaviour consists of interruptive forms of action stimulated
by rapidly changing circumstances with slight or intense organic and
2. Refers to the “confusion and excitement which disrupt behaviour that
normally takes place in response to the stimulus…”(p. 141)
“The extreme gross emotional states have no value”
WHEN DOES AN EMOTION OCCUR?
In a more poetic vein:
“The affective tone of an emotional state… is one of blankness and
lostness; a condition in which the thousand colors of feeling lose all
definiteness and are mixed indiscriminately in the star-dust of general
THE TWO FACES OF EMOTION
1. It can be viewed as functional or else it would not have survived the
2. Excessive emotion can be disruptive and hinder the adaptation
HOW DOES EMOTION FACILITATE ADAPTATION?
“The emotional reactions are those that are awakened when the
organism is unable to respond in an orderly and efficient fashion to a
highly stimulating situation…”
Emotion is “a somatic readjustment which is instinctively aroused by a
stimulating situation and which in turn promotes a more effective adaptive
response to that situation; this greater efficiency is sufficient to increase
materially the chances for the organism‟s survival…”
“An emotional stimulus is a very effective one, and being denied any
motor outlet, it necessarily discharges into the somatic mechanisms - the
only available outlet at the time - and tends to awaken a vigorous
HOW DOES EMOTION FACILITATE ADAPTATION?
Robert S. Woodworth
Emotions are extensions of instinctive reactions when the automaticity
that was present in the animal world no longer exists.
It facilitates survival activity by pairing “characteristic modes of overt
behaviour and characteristic affective states.”
“Instinctive avoidance behaviour and the emotion of fear.”
“Instinctive aggressive behaviour and the emotion of anger.”
“Exploratory behaviour and the emotion of wonder.”
EMOTIONS CUE ADAPTIVE BEHAVIOUR
1. You can focus on the stimulus side (analyzing inputs)
2. You can focus on the response side (analyzing adaptive behaviour).
WHAT ABOUT FEELINGS?
1. Feelings are like attitudes and express a relation or evaluation about a
2. “Feeling… is an instrument of adjustment”.
3. “Consciousness of the danger of a situation… results in a feeling of
danger…[and] the emotion of fear follows the feeling of danger
4. We “project onto external situations feelings they arouse in us.”
So, “to comprehend is to take an attitude towards things. To understand
that a situation is „dangerous‟ is to take, with regards to this situation, an
attitude of flight or of protection.”
SUMMARY: The Processes Underlying Action Theory
1. HELPS… An appraisal of the situation stimulates an attitude or set
towards appropriate action and the somatic accompaniments are
experienced as emotion, a feeling of effort to react to a stimulating
2. HINDERS…When the level of visceral excitement becomes too great,
there is a potential “miscarriage of instinct” and a failure to cope.