Re: emotions/origins

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Thu Jan 08 2004 - 10:57:52 PST

A classic in this area, still well worth reading, is by Charles Darwin
(yes, THE Charles Darwin):

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals

A more messy question of course is just what should count as "an emotion".
Do emotional states lie along continua in several dimensions? do we break
up the feeling spectrum culturally just as we do the color spectrum, with
named points of reference? Are there basic differences between emotions
that come and go in a flash, vs. more persistent states? Surprise is not
sustained, or sustainable I think in most circumstances. Neither probably
is "fright", though fear and anxiety are often persistent. At the other end
of the scale is "depression" an emotion? Doesn't seem so to me.

Antonio D'Amasio makes a distinction between emotions and feelings (the
latter are felt bodily states, and some but not all arise from emotions, in
his view).

This all seems a very murky area to me, though a very important one. Is
"honour" an emotion? is "respect"? The denial of the importance of
affective dimensions of life seems so deeply rooted in middle-class and
academic (esp. culturally north european and descended therefrom) culture
that we are left with very little in the way of good analytical or
explanatory discourses about emotions, feelings, affect, etc.

This is also a gendered disjunction in our/my culture. Emotion has been
denigrated as part of its association with women, children, the imagined
working class, the imagined south-european and culturally Other ... as part
of the discourse of justification for political domination by "rational"
adult males of politically dominant groups and castes.

One of D'Amasio's poignant ironies is his evidence, from neurological
dysfunction studies, that emotions are necessary to reasoning itself (the
capacity to feel emotions, neurologically, seems identical to the capacity
to have value preferences, and so make choices at the branch points of
possible chains of reasoning).

I have trouble these days putting much credence in any purely cognitive
theory of learning, action, rational-choice, etc. Without an account of the
role of emotional-affective bodily aspects in activity and meaning-making,
what do we really know?


At 08:01 PM 1/7/2004 -0800, you wrote:

>What follows is my own understanding of origins of emotions. Its a very
>story which is never, so far as I know, discussed in sufficient detail and
>d fear differentiate from discontent at about 4 months and 6 months,
>respectively (Lewis 1998).
>mple, the mothers interviewed in one study reported that their infants
>were expressing several emotions by the age of 1 month, including joy,
>fear, anger, surprise, sadness, and interest (Johnson et al., 1982).
>. To a somewhat lesser extent, they also agreed on which expressions
>showed anger, disgust, and contempt.
>[Insert Figure 4.18 about here; From 4e, Fig. 4.16, p. 143]
>s of actors posing the different expressions, the adults from different
>cultures also agreed on the photographs that represented happiness,
>sadness, anger, and disgust. Nontheless, culture-specific experience must
>play some role in judging emotional expressions because people are more
>accurate in judging emotions displayed by members of their own culture
>group (Elfenbein and Ambady 2003)
> and ages (Witherington, Campos et al. 2002).
> interaction among the higher brain centers. None of these aspects of
> emotion are present at birth. Consequently, some of the psychological and
> biological processes that link facial expressions of newborns to emotions
> may differ from those reflected by the same facial expressions in older
> infants, children, and adults.
>fants act, think, communicate, and relate to others in new ways. Thus, in
>the chapters ahead, we will frequently find ourselves considering the
>development of emotions in connection with the development of the
>intellectual, social, and physical aspects of development.

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Tel. 734-763-9276

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