Last modified
Oct 19, 2021
  PSY 101    [Psychology Images]   Class 23: Motivation III: Emotions

The Elements of Emotional Experience

   Google - Images of "Emotion"

What is an "emotion"?

However, to be very blunt and upfront about it, psychology is still fighting over the concept of emotion. For example, as a recent paper argues, "“Well over a century [after William James’ 1884 essay posed the question “What is an emotion?], there remains no scientific consensus about how “emotion” should be defined or measured…” (Crivelli & Fridlund, 2019, p. 164), One estimate suggests that there may be over 90 different definitions of emotion (in English) proposed over the period from the 1880s to 1980s.

A. Cognitive Component

  B.  Physiological Component: Our bodies respond biologically to the world around us and this includes any situation evoking an emotion
Autonomic NS

            & Amygdala Limbic system

   C. Behavioral Component

1.  Facial Feedback Hypothesis

     Facial Feedback Hypothesis

2.  Botox (Botulinum toxin)


Are behavioral expressions of emotions innate?

Culture and Emotion

Cross-Cultural Similarities

[6 Faces]
Are emotional expressions perceived the same way all over the world?

[Ekman Facial Research]

Paul Ekman (the model for the psychologist in the television program Lie To Me) used photographs of people's faces showing the emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise to study this question. He argues that there are six universally recognized emotions conveyed by the face. This overall thesis is has been known as basic emotions theory (BET).

Evidence of agreement for this hypothesis has been found in both the industrialized world and less developed cultures (e.g., New Guinea) for the emotional meaning of facial expressions. Psychologists have also generally found similarity in physiological arousal associated with different emotions.
            Feldman Barrett
(Not in book:) HOWEVER,other personality psychologists such as Lisa Feldman Barrett (Northeastern University) argue that Ekman's hypothesis has not been confirmed on a world-wide basis. She and her colleagues have pointed out that in many studies of other cultures, the participants were shown the pictures of facial expressions and then asked to choose between two different emotion words as their responses. When research is conducted with participants choosing their own emotion words, there is far less agreement than Ekman found. Further, even Ekman's own data showed that people worldwide would correctly identify one of these two emotions when presented with a set of posed photographs about 58% of the time. This is certainly a rate above chance, but there is a significant margin of error (42%).

Feldman Barrett argues that emotions are constructed in the same way that we interpret all the other aspects of our experience. We'll come back to this below.

Cross-Cultural Differences

Theories of Emotions

Popular or "Commonsense"

We see an emotion-creating stimulus which leads to a feeling (like "fear") which leads to autonomic arousal of our bodies.

[Emotion - Popular Notion]

William JamesJames-Lange Theory

We see an emotion-creating stimulus which leads to autonomic arousal of our bodies which leads to a feeling (like "fear")

            - James-Lange Theory]

CannonCannon-Bard Theory

We see an emotion-creating stimulus which is processed in our subcortical brain which leads simultaneously to both autonomic arousal of our bodies and the conscious experience of a feeling (like "fear")
            - Cannon-Bard Theory]
SchacterStanley Schachter's Two-Factor Theory

We see an emotion-creating stimulus which leads to autonomic arousal of our bodies which leads to a cognitive appraisal of the context which leads to labeling the arousal with the name of a feeling (like "fear")

[Emotion - Schachter Theory]

Evolutionary Theories of Emotion

[Darwin & Emotions]

[Plutchik_Emotions]Modern evolutionary theories (Silvan Tomkins, Carroll Izard, & Robert Plutchik)

Evolutionary theories tend to agree that there are "appraisal" mechanisms. But claim that they come in two different types: (1) an automatic & in-built assessment mechanism which uses the minimal amount of data to draw a conclusion very quickly and (2) a more elaborated assessment system which builds on and may overturn the automatic assessment mechanism.
Barrett's Theory of Constructed EmotionTheory of Constructed Emotion (TCE: not in book)

The Ingredients of Happiness

Covid-19 AnxietyHow Happy Are People?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 = "miserable" and 10 = "extremely happy"), how would you rate how you have been feeling since the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
  • On that same same of 1 to 10, how would you rate how you were feeling at this time last fall?
  • The data below are taken from two studies in the summer of 2020
            during COVID-19
  • The vast majority of people in surveys in the past have rated themselves as fairly happy with only a small percentage as saying they were very unhappy.
What predicts subjective well-being or happiness?
Weak Predictors Moderately Strong Predictors Stronger Predictors
  • Wealth itself is associated with happiness, though only weakly
  • Even with higher income, some are dissatisfied they can buy more = high levels of materialism
  • Purchasing "experiences" (concerts, travel, etc.) is more rewarding than buying more goods
  • Little differences over lifespan in average happiness
  • Parents with children are about as happy as those without
Intelligence & Attractiveness
  • Even though these are valued in society, no relationship is found with happiness
  • There is a modest correlation between health status & happiness (r =-0.32)
  • Many people with disabilities learn to cope and are reasonably happy
Social Activity
  • Larger friendship networks and satisfaction with social support are correlated with happiness
Religious Belief
  • People with stronger religious beliefs tend to be happier than those without
  • Religious belief may give people a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Community aspects of religion (e.g., parish or church involvement) are supportive
Relationship Satisfaction
  • Being in love does bring happiness
  • Married people are happier than those who are single
  • Satisfaction lies in the quality of the relationship regardless of marital status
  • Those who like their jobs tend to be happier than those who don't
  • Often there is a satisfaction which comes with what happens at work
Genetics & Personality
  • Outlook on life seems to mold how happy people feel across the lifespan
  • There appears to be a significant heritable component to happiness, e.g., extraverts tend to be happier than others (especially those who are energetic in their general life engagement)

Using data from the Gallup World Poll (2005-2015; 166 nations; 1.6 million respondents), Diener et al. (2018) looked at 32 different variables to determine the characteristics of extremely happy individuals ("the happiest people in the world"). They found that the happiest people (versus those with average happiness) across the globe...
  • lived in prosperous societies (and they themselves did not have low income or serious money problems)
  • experienced strong social support (e.g., being treated with respect; having social relationships via church and other groups)
  • did not have significant health problems or pain
  • on the previous day had felt rested, learned something, chose how to spend their time, and were proud of something
  • Note that this study determined that there were no individual variable that necessarily led to high levels of happiness
  • Those who lacked resources (health, income, and social support) tended to be unhappy.
  • In light of these findings, we might ask about people living in the United States whether happiness may be undermined by
    • Significant disparities of wealth (the US is a wealthy society, but the wealth is not equally shared)
    • Significant disparities of access to health care (and the high number of those who experience chronic pain or addiction)
    • The need to work more than a single job OR the loss of a job
    • The dwindling levels of social support within society
  • How you feel (subjective feeling) is more important than subjective realities
  • Judgments of happiness are all relative: we tend to compare ourselves with others like us, not to those unlike ourselves
  • People adapt to their circumstances, especially when facing setbacks and difficulties = hedonic adaptation


Ahmari, S. (2015, Aug 6). Inside the fear factor. Nature, 524, 34.

Crivelli, C.,& Fridlund, A.J. (2019) Inside-Out: From Basic Emotions Theory to the Behavioral Ecology View. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 43, 161–194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-019-00294-2

Diener, E., Seligman, M.E.P., Choi, H., & Oishi, S. (2018). Happiest people revisited. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 176-184. https://doi.org/10.1177/174569161769707

LeDoux, J. (2015). Anxious: Using the brain to understand and treat fear and anxiety. New York, NY: Viking.

Strack, F., Martin, L. L., & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 768-777.

Wagenmakers, E.-J., Beek, T., Dijkhoff, L., & Gronau, Q. F., et al. (2016). Registered replication report: Strack, Martin, & Stepper (1988). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(6), 917-928 doi: 10.1177/1745691616674458


This page was originally posted on 10/21/03