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Re: [xmca] Emotions

Interesting to find these issues current on xmca. They are ones that I have been delving into for the last year or two, and there is indeed a very large literature from different branches and approaches in psychology now on emotions -- a topic that was 10-20 years ago a rather marginalized one.

Two reasons for the upsurge in interest, I think, are the rise of biological universalism in the DNA/genetic-determinism era, and the rise of cognitive theories of emotion. Both are, to my mind, ways of avoiding having to deal with the phenomenology of feeling as an experiential mode that is pervasive in all our interactions with/in the world, and both are ideologically related to many of the less morally and politically admirable features of dominant contemporary intellectual culture. Not that people who work within such paradigms are much aware of such connections, nor to say that some of their research and findings are not still useful and transposable into other frameworks.

I believe this thread more or less started with Martin's introducing early work on the sociality of emotion and efforts, which I applaud, to move away from in-the-head models of emotion to more social-interpersonal-relational ones. But one of the constants in much work on emotion, which comes from the bio-universalist ideology, is that there are relatively few of them. I think that's completely wrong. There may be relatively few evolution-selected primary responses, which are the antecedents or foundations on which the complexity of human emotions is built, what Ekman is referring to as the initial milliseconds in human responses, and which light up areas of the limbic brain like the amygdala very quickly, and may well show in fairly automatic small muscle tensions as in the face. But emotions occur over many timescales and without the commitment to identifying some small set of primary human emotions with the corresponding responses in non-human mammals (primates for Darwin), there is no reason to privilege that initial, shortest timescale. As we feel the ebb and flow of emotional feelings, it is clear that the neo-cortex's rich connections with the limbic brain are modulating and contextualizing what unfolds. Emotions, affects, and feelings are very semantically rich (there are hundreds of named ones in English) and experientially even richer (every feeling is probably unique to its moment).

So every step we can take toward re-conceiving emotions as not primitive, not "animal", not opposed to reason, not biologically determined, not culturally universal, not solely in-the-head mental phenomena, not passive reactions; and as being social-interpersonal, situated, distributed, active, essential to reasoning, "higher" forms of human functioning ... brings us that much closer to being able to re-integrate meaning and feeling as aspects of unitary interactional processes.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Jul 7, 2010, at 7:38 PM, mike cole wrote:

> Social, but no culture?
> Context but no culture?
> hmmmmm. How is that possible?
> (have not changed sub line)
> mike
> On Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 7:16 PM, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:
>> ...and here is Ekman writing on the universality of emotional expression,
>> in a paper title Universality of Emotional Expression? A Personal History of
>> the Dispute. He is commenting on a criticism of his work by Margaret Mead:
>> "Perhaps Mead thought I was claiming that emotions operate
>> like instincts, uninfluenced by social experience. That was not
>> my position; finding universals in expressions does not mean that
>> expressions are not socially influenced. Our findings on how
>> socially learned display rules produced a cultural difference in
>> the public behavior of Japanese and Americans should have made
>> that clear.... I had emphasized that
>> facial expressions '... are embedded in a context; they may be
>> elicited by different stimuli, be operated upon by different display
>> rules, be blended with other affects, and be followed by different
>> behavioral consequences. We do not mean to belittle these factors;
>> in actuality we want to focus attention on these factors as
>> the major sources of cultural differences in affect displays.'...
>> Social experience influences
>> attitudes about emotions, creates display and feeling rules,
>> develops and tunes the particular occasions which will most
>> rapidly call forth an emotion. [However] I believe that much of the initial
>> emotion-specific
>> physiological activity in the first few milliseconds of an emotional
>> experience is also not penetrable by social experience"
>> Martin
>> p.s. I changed the subject line
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