last updated:

April 13, 2021

[Brain Image]    

PSY 340 Brain and Behavior

Class 27:  What is An  Emotion? [Outline]


How would you answer the question below that psychologist Dacher Keltner (2019) poses to his classes?

“If you could flip a switch and shut off the experience of emotion,
all emotions, from that moment going forward, would you?”

                Models of Emotion

Lisa Feldman Barrett (2017, Northeastern University) • Theory of Constructed Emotion

Barrett Model of Emotion

Many psychologists argue that an emotion comprises three different elements:

Walter B Cannon1. Emotions, Autonomic Nervous System Arousal, and the James-Lange Theory

So, how can we understand the ways in which the body and the emotions are connected?

Commonsense view:

[Emotions: Commonsense View]

James-Lange view:

[Emotions: James-Lange View]

Named for William James (1842-1910; American) & Carl Georg Lange (1834-1900; Danish)

A modern version of this theory says that emotions follow this pattern:

  • Event or stimulus which challenges you
  • Cognitive appraisal of the situation comes first
  • This leads to action (we including our bodies do something; the behavioral- response) and then
  • Emotional feeling follows after the action. Hence, an emotion is a kind of thought or conclusion.

BotoxA. Is physiological (ANS) arousal necessary for emotional feelings? The results are contradictory

B. Is physiological (ANS) arousal sufficient for emotions? Probably...in extreme cases

      [Facial Feedback Hypothesis
              Example]   Mobius syndrome

Bottom Line: The perception of the body's reactions may be somewhat important for us to interpret our feelings.

C. Is Emotion a Useful Concept?

2. Do People Have A Limited Number of Basic Emotions


Paul Ekman : happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise.

Other psychologists argue that Ekman's evidence is weak: what about the 42% incorrect responses? Or, people seeing more than one emotion in a single photograph? Or, the reality that we observe more of a person than their face alone?

ffrey Grey's Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory

Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory

Positive Emotions: A listing of those being studied in recent years include amusement, awe, contentment, desire, ecstasy, gratitude, interest, joy, love, pride, relief, sympathy, & triumph (Keltner, 2019).  An alternative group of positive emotions are shown below in the figure.

Positive Emotion family tree

FredricksonBroaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions of Barbara Fredrickson

3. The Function of Emotions

   A. Moral Decisions and Emotions

[Trolley Car Dilemma]   Footbridge

Our text also proposed two other scenarios

The Lifeboat Dilemma

The Hospital Dilemma
  • we may conclude that decision-making is not purely a "logical" process.

Joshua G[Emotional Activation in the Brain]reen (Harvard University):, when we make decisions, we activate different brain areas if the decision is laden with emotion.

  • Cingulate gyrus
  • Angular gyrus
  • Medial frontal gyrus
   B. Brain Damage, Emotions, and Decision-making

Old notion = Emotions disrupt or harm higher forms of reason

Individuals with brain damage affecting their emotions make very poor decisions (Antonio Damasio)

Case #1: Man with prefrontal cortex damage
Case #2: Young adults who suffered injury to prefrontal cortex in infancy.

Current notion = Emotions provide wisdom and shape thinking in deeply rational ways