The Many Facets of Emotion
We experience emotions such as happiness, fear, sadness, pride, and anger when we consider our situation (either real or imagined) to be relevant to our active personal goals (Scherer, Schorr, & Johnstone, 2001). Some goals that make a situation meaning-ful are of long-term concern, such as wanting to be liked. Other goals may be more fleeting, such as hoping to get the last slice of cake, or rooting for the underdog in a football match.
Whatever the goal may be, once we’ve evaluated a situation as being personally rele-vant, three types of changes are evident that, taken together, characterize emotion. These changes affect our behavior (how we act), our subjective experience (how we feel), and our physiology (how various systems in the body are functioning) (Mauss, Levenson, McCarter, Wilhelm, & Gross, 2005). We can identify similar changes in the states we call moods, but psychologists distinguish emotions from moods in several ways. For one, emotions typically have a clear object or target (e.g., we are happy about something, or mad at someone); moods do not. Emotions are also usually briefer than moods, lasting seconds or minutes rather than hours or days.
Some of our bodily responses to emotion are quite general, such as a broad pattern of approaching with interest in response to emotionally positive stimuli, or a general withdrawal in response to emotionally negative stimuli. Perhaps the most prominent behaviors associated with emotion, however, are our facial behaviors—our smiles, frowns, laughs, gapes, grimaces, and snarls.
Charles Darwin hypothesized that our facial expressions of emotion are actually vestiges of our ancestors’ basic adaptive patterns (1872b). He argued, for example, that our “anger” face, often expressed by lowered brows, widened eyes, and open mouth with exposed teeth, reflects the facial movements our ancestors would have made when biting an opponent. Similarly, our “disgust” face, often manifested as a wrinkled nose and protruded lower lip and tongue, reflects the way our ancestors responded to foul odors or spit out foods. (For elaborations, see Ekman, 1980, 1984; Izard, 1977; Tomkins, 1963.)
In support of this position, Darwin noted that our facial expressions resemble many of the displays made by monkeys and apes. Darwin also believed that the expressions would be identical among humans worldwide, even “those who have associated but little with Europeans”. This point, too, can be confirmed—for example, in observations of children born blind, who nonetheless express emotions using the typical, recog-nizable set of facial expressions despite the fact that they could not have learned these expressions through imitation (see, for example, Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1970; Galati, Scherer, & Ricci-Bitti, 1997; Goodenough, 1932).
A different test of this universality claim involves comparisons between cultures (Russell, 1994; Tracy & Robins, 2008), but only a tiny number of studies have used the participants most crucial for this test: members of relatively isolated non-Western cul-tures (Ekman, 1973; Ekman & Oster, 1979; Fridlund, Ekman, & Oster, 1983; Izard, 1971). Why is this group crucial? If research participants, no matter where they live, have been exposed to Western movies or television, their responses might indicate only the impact of these media and thus provide no proof of the universality claim. Therefore, we need participants who have not seen reruns of Western soap operas, or Hollywood movies, or a slew of Western advertising.
In one of the few studies of this critical group, American actors were photographed showing expressions that conveyed emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. These photographs were then shown to members of various modern literate cultures (Swedes, Japanese, Kenyans) and to members of an isolated nonliterate New Guinea tribe. All participants who saw the photos were asked to
pick the emotion label that
matched each photograph. In other cases, the procedure was reversed. For example, the New Guinea tribesmen were photographed portraying the facial expressions that they considered appropriate to various situations, such as happiness at the return of a friend, grief at the death of a child, and anger at the start of a fight (Figure 12.29). American college students then looked at the photographs and judged which situation the tribesmen in each photo had been asked to convey (Ekman & Friesen, 1975).
In these studies, all the participants, including those in relatively isolated cultures, did reasonably well. They were able to supply the appropriate emotion label for the pho-tographs, or to describe a situation that might have elicited the expression shown in the photograph. But they were more successful at recognizing some expressions than at recognizing others. We highlighted the biological roots of smiling, and, in fact, these were, in this study, generally matched with “happy” terms and situations, with remarkable levels of consistency (Ekman, 1994; Izard, 1994; see also Russell, 1994). Other emotions, such as disgust, were less well recognized, but still identified at levels well above chance, suggesting that the meaning of emotional expressions tran-scends cultural and geographic boundaries.
Let us note, though, that even though the perception of emotions may be similar in all cultures, the display of emotions is surely not. A widely cited example comes from research in which American and Japanese participants were presented with harrowing surgical films (Figure 12.30). Participants first watched the films privately (i.e., with no one in the room with them), but their facial expressions were recorded by a hidden camera. The facial reactions of Americans and Japanese were virtually identical. But when the participants then watched one of the films again while being interviewed by an experimenter, the results were quite different. In this context, the Japanese showed more positive emotion than the Americans showed (Ekman, 1972; Friesen, 1972). Thus, when in public, participants’ facial expressions were governed by the display rules set by their culture—deeply ingrained conventions, often obeyed without awareness, that govern the facial expressions considered appropriate in particular contexts (Ekman &Friesen, 1969; Ekman, Friesen, & O’Sullivan, 1988).
Of course, display rules are not limited to a person’s reactions to a gruesome film. Other studies have extended the analysis of display rules in contexts as diverse as par- ticipating in sports (H. S. Friedman & Miller-Herringer, 1991) and receiving presents one does not like (P. M. Cole, 1985). Research has also explored the way in which indi- viduals differ in their knowledge of display rules (Matsumoto, Yoo, & Nakagawa, 2008). These differences include variation not only from one person to the next, but also between the genders. For example, women in Western cultures are more likely to express their emotions than men are, particularly emotions such as sadness (Brody & Hall, 2000; Kring & Gordon, 1998).
Along with changes in our behavior, emotion also involves changes in how we feel. Indeed, emotional experience has long been the essence of poetry, literature, and other forms of artistic expression that are all replete with expressions of undying love, mortal hatred, and unquenchable sadness. How can we study these fleeting and complex feelings hidden inside the mind (Barrett, Mesquita, Ochsner, & Gross, 2007)? Here, as elsewhere, scientists begin by seeking a proper classification scheme, and one proposal has focused on defining specific categories of emotions (see, for example, R. S. Lazarus, 1991). One problem with this approach, though, lies in defining exactly what the categories are. Common language gives few clues. There are over 550 emotion words in English (Averill, 1975), and many more in other languages that cannot be translated readily into English. However, as Phillip Shaver and his colleagues have shown, people typically use emotion words in ways that reveal a relatively small num- ber of “clusters,” which are defined by words with similar meanings (Shaver, Schwartz, Kirson, & O’Connor, 1987). As in Figure 12.31, one cluster involves words associated with love, another involves words associated with joy, and other clusters describe anger, sadness, and fear. An alternative approach describes emotions in terms of dimensions rather than categories: “more this” or “less that” rather than “this type” versus “that type.”There are various ways in which we might define these dimensions, but one relies simply on how pleasant or unpleasant the emotion feels, and then how activated the person feels when in the midst of the emotion (Barrett, 1998; Larsen & Diener, 1992; Russell, 1980, 1983); these two axes can be used to create a circle within which all the various inter- mixtures of the dimensions can be described, as in Figure 12.32.
Either of these categorization schemes can help us figure out how emotions relate to one another—which are similar, which are sharply distinct. But neither scheme really tells us what the emotions really feel like, and so neither scheme answers questions about individual or cul- tural differences in emotional experience. Does your happiness feel the same as mine? When someone in Paris feels triste, is that person’s feeling the same as the feeling of someone in London who feels sad, or someone in Germany who feels traurig?
For that matter, how should we think about cultures that have markedly different terms for describing their emotions? The people who live on the Pacific Island of Ifalik lack a word for “surprise,” and the Tahitians lack a word for “sadness.” Likewise, other cultures have words that describe common emotions for which we have no special
terms. The Ifaluk sometimes feel an emotion they call fago, which involves a complex mixture of compassion, love, and sadness experi-enced in relationships in which one person is dependent on the other (Lutz, 1986, 1988). And the Japanese report a common emotion called amae, which is a desire to be dependent and cared for (Doi, 1973; Morsbach & Tyler, 1986). The German language reserves the word Schadenfreude for the special pleasure derived from another’s misfortune. Do people in these cultures experience emotions that we do not (Figure 12.33)? Or are emotional experiences common across cultures, despite the variations in cultures’ labels for emotional expe-riences? On these difficult questions, the jury is still out.
When we respond emotionally, it is often a whole body affair, and the bodily reactions associated with different emotions certainly feel different from one another (Levenson, 1994). That is, not only do the emotions differ in how they feel inside our “head,” but they also seem to differ in how they feel in the rest of the body. The sick stomach and wrinkled nose of disgust, for example, feel decidedly different from the squared shoul-ders and puffed chest of pride. And anger’s hot head and coiled muscles seem opposite fear’s cold feet and faint heart.
From a common-sense perspective, it seems that emotions arise when we encounter a significant stimulus, and this encounter leads to bodily changes that dif-fer by emotion (Figure 12.34A). Interestingly, this sequence of events was turned on its head by one of the first emotion theories in the field, namely, William James’s the-ory that different emotions provoke different patterns of physiological response (James, 1884). According to the James-Lange theory of emotion (Carl Lange was a European contemporary of James’s who offered a similar account), the reason emo-tions feel different from one another subjectively is that we sense the different phys-iological patterns produced by each emotion. Specifically, this view holds that emotion begins when we perceive a situation of an appropriate sort—we see the bear or hear the insult. But our perception of these events is, as James put it, “purely cog-nitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth”. What turns this perception into genuine emotion is our awareness of the bodily changes produced by the arousing stimuli. These changes might consist of skeletal movements (running) or visceral reactions (pounding heartbeat), but only when we detect the biological changes do we move from cold appraisal to emotional feeling, from mere assessment to genuine affect (Figure 12.34B). Moreover, the claim is that the specific character of the biological changes is crucial—so that we feel fear because we are experiencing the pattern of bodily changes associated with fear; we feel hap-piness because of its pattern of changes in the body, and so on.
Subsequent theories, however, made quite different predictions about the degree of physiological patterning we should expect in emotion. For example, Walter Cannon, whom we met earlier as a pioneer in the study of the “fight or flight” response, believed that our physiological responses are quite general (W. B. Cannon, 1927). According to the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion (Philip Bard was a contem-porary of Cannon’s who espoused a similar view), it’s not easy to distinguish the bodily changes associated with different emotions, so that the bodily changes associated with anger are actually rather similar to the changes associated with happy excitement (Figure 12.34C).
Cannon’s view gained support from early studies in which participants received injections of epinephrine, which triggered broad sympathetic activation with all its consequences—nervousness, palpitations, flushing, tremors, and sweaty palms. These biological effects are similar to those that accompany fear and rage, and so, according to the James-Lange theory, people detecting these effects in their bodies should experience these emotions. But that was not the case. Some of the participants who received the injections simply reported the physical symptoms. Others said they felt “as if ” they were angry or afraid, a kind of “cold emotion,” not the real thing (Landis & Hunt, 1932; Marañon, 1924). Apparently, the visceral reactions induced by the stimulant were by themselves not sufficient to produce emotional experience.
Even so, there is an obvious challenge to the Cannon-Bard theory. If different emo-tions produce comparable physiological responses, then why do we have the subjective impression that our bodies are doing quite different things in different emotional states? This question was addressed by the Schachter-Singer theory of emotion (Figure 12.34D). According to this theory, behavior and physiology are (as James proposed) cru-cial for emotional experience. James was wrong, though, in claiming that the mere per-ception of these bodily changes is sufficient to produce emotional experience. That is because, in addition, emotion depends on a person’s judgments about why her body and physiology have changed (Schachter & Singer, 1962).
In a classic study supporting this theory, participants were injected with a drug that they believed was a vitamin supplement but really was the stimulant epinephrine. After the drug was administered, participants sat in the waiting room for what they thought was to be a test of their vision. In the waiting room with them was a confederate of the experimenter (someone who appeared to be another research participant but was actu-ally part of the research team). In one condition the confederate acted irritable, made angry remarks, and eventually stormed out of the room. In another condition he acted exuberant, throwing paper planes out the window and playing basketball with balled-up paper. Of course, his behavior was all part of the experiment; the vision test that the participants were expecting never took place (Schachter & Singer, 1962). Participants exposed to the euphoric confederate reported feeling happy, and, to a lesser degree, par-ticipants exposed to the angry confederate reported that they felt angry. Although this study has come under criticism (G. D. Marshall & Zimbardo, 1979; Mezzacappa, Katkin, & Palmer, 1999; Reisenzein, 1983), it remains influential because it is a reminder that bodily arousal only partially determines the emotion that is experienced.
Over the past 50 years, researchers have tried to clarify how the body responds dur-ing emotional experiences. One of the most interesting conclusions from this research is that our perceptions of bodily differences among the emotions may in some cases be illusions, compelling experiences that are not well grounded in reality (Cacioppo, Berntson, & Klein, 1992). It seems, therefore, that the various emotions are surprisingly similar if we examine the body’s response “from the neck down.”
Even so, the emotions are distinguishable biologically—in the pattern of brainactivation associated with each emotion. Evidence on this point comes from studiesin the field of affective neuroscience (R . J. Davidson & Sutton, 1995; Panksepp, 1991, 1998), whose proponents argue that emotions arise not in one, but in multiple neu-ral circuits. Some brain regions are activated in virtually all emotions (Murphy, Nimmo-Smith, & Lawrence, 2003; Phan, Wager, Taylor, & Liberzon, 2002)—for example, the medial prefrontal cortex. One likely possibility is that this section of the brain plays a general role in attention and meaning analysis related to emotion. Other brain regions, however, seem to be related to specific emotions. For example, fear is often associated with activation of the amygdala, and sadness is often associ-ated with activation of the cingulate cortex just below the corpus callosum (although activation in these brain regions is not specific to these emotions; see Barrett & Wager, 2006). Many researchers are convinced that brain data like these will eventu-ally allow us to determine the extent to which different emotions have different phys-iological profiles.