Emotions are biological states associated with the nervous system brought on by neurophysiological changes variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or displeasure. There is currently no scientific consensus on a definition.
Emotions are often intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition creativity and motivation.
From a purely mechanistic perspective, “Emotions can be defined as a positive or negative experience that is associated with a particular pattern of physiological activity.” Emotions produce different physiological, behavioral and cognitive changes. The original role of emotions was to motivate adaptive behaviors that in the past would have contributed to the passing on of genes through survival, reproduction, and kin selection.
In some theories, cognition is an important aspect of emotion. For those who act primarily on emotions, they may assume that they are not thinking, but mental processes involving cognition are still essential, particularly in the interpretation of events. For example, the realization of our believing that we are in a dangerous situation and the subsequent arousal of our body’s nervous system (rapid heartbeat and breathing, sweating, muscle tension) is integral to the experience of our feeling afraid. Other theories, however, claim that emotion is separate from and can precede cognition. Consciously experiencing an emotion is exhibiting a mental representation of that emotion from a past or hypothetical experience, which is linked back to a content state of pleasure or displeasure. The content states are established by verbal explanations of experiences, describing an internal state.
Emotions are complex. According to some theories, they are states of feeling that result in physical and psychological changes that influence our behavior. The physiology of emotion is closely linked to arousal of the nervous system with various states and strengths of arousal relating, apparently, to particular emotions. Emotion is also linked to behavioral tendency. Extroverted people are more likely to be social and express their emotions, while introverted people are more likely to be more socially withdrawn and conceal their emotions. Emotion is often the driving force behind motivation, positive or negative. According to other theories, emotions are not causal forces but simply syndromes of components, which might include motivation, feeling, behavior, and physiological changes, but no one of these components is the emotion. Nor is the emotion an entity that causes these components.
Emotions involve different components, such as subjective experience, cognitive processes, expressive behavior, psychophysiological changes, and instrumental behavior.
During the 1970s, psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions that he suggested were universally experienced in all human cultures. The emotions he identified were happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. He later expanded his list of basic emotions to include such things as pride, shame, embarrassment, and excitement.
Of all the different types of emotions, happiness tends to be the one that people strive for the most. Happiness is often defined as a pleasant emotional state that is characterized by feelings of contentment, joy, gratification, satisfaction, and well-being.
Research on happiness has increased significantly since the 1960s within a number of disciplines, including the branch of psychology known as positive psychology. This type of emotion is sometimes expressed through:
•Facial expressions: such as smiling
•Body language: such as a relaxed stance
•Tone of voice: an upbeat, pleasant way of speaking
While happiness is considered one of the basic human emotions, the things we think will create happiness tend to be heavily influenced by culture. For example, pop culture influences tend to emphasize that attaining certain things such as buying a home or having a high-paying job will result in happiness.
The realities of what actually contributes to happiness are often much more complex and more highly individualized.2 People have long believed that happiness and health were connected, and research has supported the idea that happiness can play a role in both physical and mental health.
Sadness is another type of emotion often defined as a transient emotional state characterized by feelings of disappointment, grief, hopelessness, disinterest, and dampened mood.
Like other emotions, sadness is something that all people experience from time to time. In some cases, people can experience prolonged and severe periods of sadness that can turn into depression. Sadness can be expressed in a number of ways including:
•Withdrawal from others
The type and severity of sadness can vary depending upon the root cause, and how people cope with such feelings can also differ.
Fear is a powerful emotion that can also play an important role in survival. When you face some sort of danger and experience fear, you go through what is known as the fight or flight response.Your muscles become tense, your heart rate and respiration increase, and your mind becomes more alert, priming your body to either run from the danger or stand and fight. This response helps ensure that you are prepared to effectively deal with threats in your environment. Expressions of this type of emotion can include:
- Facial expressions: such as widening the eyes and pulling back the chin
- Body language: attempts to hide or flea from the threat
- Physiological reactions: such as rapid breathing and heartbeat
Of course, not everyone experiences fear in the same way. Some people may be more sensitive to fear and certain situations or objects may be more likely to trigger this emotion.
Disgust is another of the original six basic emotions described by Eckman. Disgust can be displayed in a number of ways including:
- Body language: turning away from the object of disgust
- Physical reactions: such as vomiting or retching
- Facial expressions: such as wrinkling the nose and curling the upper lip
This sense of revulsion can originate from a number of things, including an unpleasant taste, sight, or smell. Researchers believe that this emotion evolved as a reaction to foods that might be harmful or fatal. When people smell or taste foods that have gone bad, for example, disgust is a typical reaction.
Poor hygiene, infection, blood, rot, and death can also trigger a disgust response. This may be the body’s way of avoiding things that may carry transmittable diseases.
Anger can be a particularly powerful emotion characterized by feelings of hostility, agitation, frustration, and antagonism towards others. Like fear, anger can play a part in your body’s fight or flight response.
When a threat generates feelings of anger, you may be inclined to fend off the danger and protect yourself. Anger is often displayed through:
- Facial expressions: such as frowning or glaring
- Body language: such as taking a strong stance or turning away
- Tone of voice: such as speaking gruffly or yelling
- Physiological responses: such as sweating or turning red
- Aggressive behaviors: such as hitting, kicking, or throwing objects
While anger is often thought of as a negative emotion, it can sometimes be a good thing. It can be constructive in helping clarify your needs in a relationship, and it can also motivate you to take action and find solutions to things that are bothering you.
Surprise is another one of the six basic types of human emotions originally described by Eckman. Surprise is usually quite brief and is characterized by a physiological startle response following something unexpected.
This type of emotion can be positive, negative, or neutral. An unpleasant surprise, for example, might involve someone jumping out from behind a tree and scaring you as you walk to your car at night.
An example of a pleasant surprise would be arriving home to find that your closest friends have gathered to celebrate your birthday. Surprise is often characterized by:
- Facial expressions: such as raising the brows, widening the eyes, and opening the mouth
- Physical responses: such as jumping back
- Verbal reactions: such as yelling, screaming, or gasping
Surprise is another type of emotion that can trigger the fight or flight response. When startled, people may experience a burst of adrenaline that helps prepare the body to either fight or flee.
Emotions play a critical role in how we live our lives, from influencing how we engage with others in our day to day lives to affecting the decisions we make. By understanding some of the different types of emotions, you can gain a deeper understanding of how these emotions are expressed and the impact they have on your behavior.
It is important to remember, however, that no emotion is an island. Instead, the many emotions you experience are nuanced and complex, working together to create the rich and varied fabric of your emotional life.