Emotions are not just intrapersonal events - processes that happen within us, but they happen between us. Just how social emotions are is one of the areas of debate. For example, some researchers will acknowledge that emotions are social because many of the events that trigger emotions are social. For example you find out someone lied to you, you meet your loved one after a long separation, someone cuts in and takes "your" parking space. All well. These are social situations, and the importance of these situations is high because of the implications that others have for us. There will be hardly disagreement on this one. In fact, the same experience can evoke different reactions if you believed it to be caused by a software program, rather than a person.
Take the following, by now classical, example: One of the experimental paradigms that has found some interest in a new field called neuroeconomics is the ultimatum game. Imagine that you come to my experiment and I put you in a room with someone else. I give you 10 Euro and tell you that you have to split that money with your fellow subject any way you want it. If she agrees to the split, both will get the money. If she does not agree then neither will get it. Fairly straightforward. You offer 5 Euro, she accepts, and both walk with 5 Euro. But what happens if you offer only one Euro? Most likely, studies have shown, the other will reject this offer. This phenomenon caused (surprisingly) some head scratching in economists who had a hard time understanding why that would happen. Why would you reject money with no strings attached? Well, to many people outside of academia it appears quite logical that unfair behavior can tick you off and that one way to punish the person treating you unfairly is to make sure that the other one will not benefit from that unfair behavior. So far so good. Now, one of the interesting studies in this field by Alan Sanfey and colleagues (2003) showed that if the offer is made by a computer program, rather than a person, the unfair offer is more likely to be accepted. This is important because it demonstrates this facet of the social nature of emotion - the same thing happens to you, but in one case you believe there is a person causing this, in the other you believe that a computer is causing it and your brain and the rest of your body behave differently. An elegant way to demonstrate the importance of social factors for the causation of emotion.
However, I am a firm believer that emotions are social in many more ways. One aspect that an event like the world cup highlights for us is the complex forth and back that happens in mass events like a football match. Emotions are often caused by social events, they have social consequences, but in addition, in the context of communication processes there are complex real-time things happening that apparently have emergent properties. There are very complex networks at play - you might watch with some friends, you might watch with people you do not know, but who, by their fan clothing and their behavior betray that they are "with you", there are national groups involved, there are teams involved, all of these form invisible ties that make you respond to their behavior, and those who can see and hear you to your behavior. Sometimes it is even sufficient to imagine the others (we'll talk more about this one several times). It is a real time network of subnetworks that involve feedback loops that lead to big effects: Is this the madness of the crowd that LeBon wrote about? I believe it is more complicated. In the context of our CYBEREMOTIONS project we are actually interested in such phenomena on the Internet (more about that one also).
So I leave you with the challenge to think about the complexity of the communication and feedback processes in real time while watching the next world cup matches. If you can, go to a public viewing area, and observe what is going on as people stare at strangers on huge displays, staring at other people in a stadium, staring at themselves on displays in the stadium, or staring at the people on the field, who are emoting, a lot! Enjoy the emergent chaos, and try not to get too annoyed by the vuvuzelas!
Thank you Elena for the question in the comment to the last post - could it be that emotion is a sort of sense - like the 7th sense?
Of course much depends on the definition of what a sense is. The five senses that are usually referred to, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste have specific sensing organs - receptors that are to a certain degree specific to some stimulation, for example chemical, or pressure. In fact there are more senses, such as nociception, or thermoception. In addition, there are senses that deal with stimulation inside of the body. Emotions in contrast seem to be aroused by the results of other senses, something we see, or hear - or imagine seeing or hearing. Thus, there seems to be a big difference. Emotional processes (let's not go back to the definition issue for the time being) follow other sense data, are not dependent to a specific modality, and, we now know, are linked to relatively complex networks in the brain that are not modality specific.
But is intuition not "the sixth sense"? Well technically not. More often sixth sense is associated with the notion of paranormal phenomena, such as telepathy. Independent of the fact that there is no scientifically validated evidence of such paranormal phenomena, the use of the term sense in this context is colloquial.
But what could it then be? I am at this point wondering whether augmented reality is a useful metaphor for the relationship of emotions and perception. Emotion can provide a different dimension to sense data - the dark ally that feels creepy, the cake that looks yummy, the dog that looks dangerous. In all of these examples words are used to convey a feeling that is the summary function of a rapid and typically automatic evaluation of properties of the object(s) perceived in relationship to their implication. One aspect of emotions is that they send nonverbal messages that are shorthand for the implication. They may trigger in human verbal associations and interpretations, but they need not. Important: these messages need not be consciously received. After all, part of the process is the rearrangement of resources to deal with situations, and that is the case whether one is aware of it or not.
Wait a moment ...? Unconscious emotions? Yes, If you did not already do so, please check out
So, Mr. Martian, what are emotions about you ask? OK, here is attempt Nr. 1.0 - I hope the translator works ...:
Emotions permit navigating an organism's complex physical and social environment by allowing to tag objects, actions, and events with meaning and implications for the organism. By linking to memories of the past, analyses of the present, and projections into the future, time is as much a factor as is space in optimizing such navigation. Emotions do that not only by providing information to the individual in the shape of subjective experience, but also by affecting every aspect of processing information regarding external and internal events. Thus, what to pay attention to, or what to remember (or not) is just as influenced by this system as is what elements to associate with other elements in the future. Bodily changes are often involved that might be helpful in supporting certain modes of response. These involve basically all other organismic systems ranging from muscles involved in locomotion, to cardiovascular changes, to modulating digestion and immune function. In this sense, emotions are active because they do not just facilitate dealing with situations, they actively influence them by biasing the own behavior as well as that of other organisms. Expressive behavior affects not only conspecifics, but can also have an effect on members of other species. In humans, a very social species, such expressive behavior leads to coordinated actions in many ways. Meaning can be assigned by direct experience, such as pain or pleasure, by observation of others' emotional responses, as well as by stories of real and fictional events. This allows rapid and slow mediated spreading of emotionally relevant information going beyond the effect of learning by first-hand experience. Thus, meaning is not only constructed by the individual, but also by aggregates of individuals, such as families, clans, companies, religious groups, nations, etc. It is particularly this process that distinguishes human emotions from emotional processes in non-human animals.
Events that are perceived by the organism as being of high relevance can lead to rapid and considerable change in basically every system of the body. Typically, such activation is self-regulating as the type of behavior that is being facilitated by the bodily changes will lead to the self-termination of the emotion-cascade. For example, running away from a threat, scaring away an annoying person, or obtaining comfort. With experience and learning the strategic manipulation of emotion relevant responses allows modulation of the own or others' emotional state, for example using expressive or other behaviors.
OK, then there is the part with different emotions, learning about emotions, what happens when emotions get out of hand, and what happens to emotions when some of the systems that are usually involved do not work well, but that was already a massive chunk of conjecture, so what do you think?
From René Descartes. L'homme de Rene Descartes. Paris: Charles Angot (1664)
There is something intriguing - I find at least - about the hypothetical NASA scenario I outlined in my last post. Try to come up with a time capsule explaining what we know about emotions. One of the big problems in discussing emotions scientifically is that everybody feels she is a specialist. We all have emotions, so nobody needs to explain to us what they are and how they function. Worse, if there is something that is counter intuitive it elicits strong reactions. So what if you had to explain what emotions are to somebody outside of that system. Very outside of that system. Just try to think about it for a moment.
I believe a good starting point is not to try to explain what emotions are, but what they do ...
OK, here is your brief: You are contacted by NASA - they are preparing another interstellar messenger probe that should contain a time capsule with various artifacts of culture and science to document who we are and what we do - you are the one who is to contribute the section on human emotion. Specifically. the task is to summarize what we know about emotions. There is no need to worry about the translation - they have somehow figured out a babel fish contraption to take care of that. What are you going to do? How much space do you need to write what we know about emotions?
Thanks so much for the feedback on the list ... I have received some comments to my previous posting “pain and pleasure” via the blog, but also via email, and via facebook. All of these are of course welcome and I will use them to make more lists and entries real!soon!now! I appreciate the encouragement, and also the challenges ;-)
Right now, I am still in the process of thinking about what to write in the next weeks and months. For me, this blogging thing is new - it is interesting, exciting, daunting, and also, at times, perplexing. Yet, curiously, problems in planning the blog resonate with problems in conducting emotion research. Topics here are: levels, dynamic aspects, intensity, and function.
LEVELS :: In the emotion context, levels may refer to levels of analysis and specifically the approach put forward by Cacioppo and Berntson (1992) when introducing the notion of Social Neuroscience. I love this idea very much; it had a huge impact on my thinking, my teaching, and also my research. The idea here is that some researchers might focus on something like the immune system, others on psychological processes, such as stress, yet others, on interindividual differences, and someone else on the role of social support networks for well-being. Typically, in each case the focus is on a single level of analysis, but the mantra Cacioppo and his colleagues have been repeating ever since is that to understand the type of phenomena that we are dealing with, one a) needs to take into account how the same process relates to different methods, theories, and observations at different levels and b) how these levels relate to each other and interact. In the example, knowing about the inner wokings of the immune system will help in understanding how psychological processes at the individual level, and here interindividual differences, relate to social support. In a nutshell. I will get back to this issue of the necessity of multi-level approaches often. If you do not know the classic paper by Cacioppo and Berntson, the reference is below. John Cacioppo's page lists many relevant papers and gives also access to many. An excellent place to check out!
For the blog context, levels refers to how I should discuss the issues I want to discuss – for the specialists (and I know that there are some who are checking out this blog), or for the colleague with some interest in emotion, for students, or for somebody who is not interested in the nitty gritty of academic discourse, but who wants to understand something about emotions and wonders how such a complex and subjective thing could be studied by science? Frankly, I have not fully decided what level should be the target level. It is sure, that I will sometimes try to be more on the introductory level, and at others, go into some of the more arcane details of specific theories – for sure, there are parts of my website arvidkappas.com that simply list some starting points for the non-specialist – such as, what to read, or where to go to find out more. However, as a rule, the topics here, and the language chosen, will be a bit more on the advanced side, assuming the reader has already some familiarity with key theories of emotion. Feedback is most welcome. I am aware, that it will not be possible to do everything for everybody. I will also try to make cross-links to other blogs so that the interested reader might serendipitously find something even more interesting than this blog ;-)
DYNAMIC ASPECTS :: Dynamic aspects relate to how things develop over time – things like duration, fluctuations. This is a major problem in emotion research. We know so little about how long an emotion lasts, how one emotion tends to change into something else, how frequent we smile, how often we show certain physiological responses. One of my own interests relates to the role of dynamics in facial expressions, particularly smiles. How fast does a smile have to show up on the face for you to feel that it is genuine and not fake?
With regard to the blog it means, how often can and should I write? How much time should I leave between? Should I try to have a fixed rhythm? I’ll see.
INTENSITY :: How intense should this get – meaning, should I provoke? Should I challenge specific readers? I intend to be relatively spontaneous, as I am when I teach – this is not a scientific article, it is a soap box, so I will see whether this works or whether I am burning my fingers as I go along. Maybe I might get a bit out of control? That would be fitting for a blog on emotions, I guess.
In the emotion world, intensity is a tricky one – sometimes it feels as if, for example, anger and slight irritation are the same thing, but at different intensities, and indeed researchers have made that point. Others believe these are different states with different properties Also concepts such as moods or temperament are not only linked to temporal differences, but also to intensity differences. How to measure the intensity of an emotion is no doubt linked to how I define emotion – so is the definition issue, alluded to in the previous post, really a red herring, or is it more important than that?
FUNCTION :: I believe strongly that a functional analysis of emotions is key to understanding them. Emotions are not there to amuse or to puzzle us – they do things. We have evolved emotions because they are particularly good in dealing with certain types of situations. Sometimes they are not so useful, but overall we are much better off with than without. This is a notion that goes back to Darwin’s analysis, particularly of emotional expressions, but also to all behaviors and biological systems. A functional analysis can also be misleading, but by and large it’s the best we can do. What that means, I will say in more detail later, as I will pick up on these other topics. I apologize to Tom – your comment was well taken, much abstract, little concrete in these opening posts …
But what is the function of the blog? Should the function(s) and goal(s) not shape the form and the content of what is being discussed? So I should know what this is about before I start. In an ideal world this might be the case, but in reality, well, this is difficult to achieve. Surely, there is more than one function I guess. Some relates to vanity and hubris. Some relates to idealism and naiveté. Some relates to me trying to make meaning out of what I can observe. This however, for me, is a distributed task – it is about making meaning for myself, but also being part of a larger enterprise that makes meaning out of observations linking many brains - this is why we teach, why we have schools and universities. Emotions are such wondrous things, it takes many brains and much time to discover some of the whys and the hows. The internet is such a curious thing, it allows connections in unexpected and rather direct ways, so I guess what it really is, is an experiment that is trageted at joint discoveries. However, I will also try to entertain a bit, along the way, and I hope I succeed.
So for now I ask you to bear with me until I have a better grasp on the blog, relating to LEVELS, DYNAMIC ASPECTS, INTENSITY, and FUNCTIONS. So that I can talk about LEVELS, DYNAMIC ASPECTS, INTENSITY, and FUNCTIONS of emotions.
Cacioppo, J. T., & Berntson, G. G. (1992). Social psychological contributions to the decade of the brain: Doctrine of multilevel analysis. American Psychologist, 47, 1019-1028. PDF
So of course my immune system reacts to the fact that I have reached the critical end-of-semester deadline and under much stress submitted all grades on time. It decided squarely that once that had been taken care of, it was time to multiply all those happy little thingies in my blood stream and do some about this and that thing that has been bothersome to my immune system all along. Three days down the road, two teeth less, and, on the upside, a good level of drugs in my blood I am sufficiently delirious to try to identify some of the big topics that have been taking up time, paper, and energy in emotion research over the last century or so. Of course, I surely have forgotten important issues when preparing this list ad-hoc and I invite comments from readers. I will use this top 10 list to pick what to write about in the coming weeks, but of course not exclusively. The issues are numbered from 1 to 10, but the sequence does not imply anything with regard to importance or hierarchy.
The big red herring: The definition issue: What is Emotion?
What is the relationship of emotion and cognition? Can cognition be a requirement, changes in cognition a consequence, and still the two be separate/separable processes?
Can emotion and emotion regulation be separated?
What is the relationship of automatic processes and conscious processes in the elicitation and the subjective experience of emotions?
To what degree does it make sense to separate emotion and motivation - in the sense that emotion motivates and no emotion occurs without something being at stake, i.e., having motivational relevance?
How do biological constraints and cultural context interact over the course of the life span in shaping our emotions?
How do categorical/discrete representations of emotions relate to dimensional models?
Does it make sense to separate emotions from moods, i.e., create classes of affective processes that can be distinguished by their time course?
Assuming that there are patterns of expressive behavior that occur universally - regardless of how they are interpreted in different cultures, what can we conclude from that?
To what degree does an analysis of emotional processes take the social brain hypothesis seriously? Do we need to work more in social contexts?
What should we make of the low cohesion between emotion components, such as subjective experience, peripheral and central physiological changes, and expressive behavior?
I apologize for those readers who start to be interested in emotion science - the points mentioned on this list are often too brief to understand what issues I am referring to - this is more something for those already in the know - but as I said, I will discuss these things in the coming weeks. I will then also try to outline what the problem is, and as usual, try to put some useful references and links in there. BTW - I am open to wishes as regards which topics I should attack with preference.