Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Scientist - Five emotions you never knew you had

In general, psychologists and researchers have identified only six universal emotions, found everywhere and among all people: joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. Now there are some people suggesting that we need to add to that list.

This article from New Scientist, based on a variety of research, offers up some new candidates. Here are some pieces of the longer article, which I encourage you to go read. [For a counter-argument to the piece, see Uh-oh, more emotions to worry about.]


The uplifting emotion

Elevation seems to be a universal feeling. Although not yet studied in modern-day pre-literate societies, it has been documented in people from Japan, India, the US and the Palestinian territories. That puts it in the same league as the Big Six. But to be considered as a basic emotion it should also have a purpose. If emotions are to fulfil their role as survival aids, they must motivate activities that help us thrive. So what is elevation for? Originally Haidt thought that it makes us nobler towards others. But when he asked volunteers to watch either an uplifting episode of Oprah or a non-uplifting scene from the sitcom Seinfeld, and then gave them a chance to help a stranger, there was no difference in behaviour between the two groups.

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The curious emotion

Interest may be trickier to pin down than fear or joy but it nevertheless possesses one of the hallmarks of a basic emotion - its own facial expression. Since the 1960s when Paul Ekman pioneered the field, psychologists have looked for universal, characteristic facial expressions to help measure and classify emotions.

Interest also seems to have a purpose. Psychologist Paul Silvia at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, believes it motivates people to learn - not for money, not for an exam, but for its own sake, to increase their knowledge just because they want to.

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The relationship-boosting emotion

Gratitude has a way to go before it satisfies the most stringent emotion criteria. The facial expression has yet to be identified, although it is easy to speculate what it might involve - a smile and a dip of the head, perhaps. Furthermore, studies have yet to be carried out in non-western cultures. This could be important, as expressions of gratitude may be culturally ingrained. Expectations of which situations will generate gratitude certainly are: waiters in the US will stand at your elbow until you tip, for example, whereas in Japan they will chase you down the street to return the extra cash you left on the table.

Like all emotions worth their salt, though, gratitude motivates us to act: it makes us want to acknowledge and repay a kindness or thoughtful gesture. So gratitude might simply ensure a quid pro quo repayment mechanism, but new research suggests there may be more to it than that.

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The emotion with two faces

We all know the contented sense of achievement and self-worth that comes with having done well at something, whether it be achieving a promotion, building something, winning a race or figuring out a cryptic crossword clue. That's why Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, one of the few psychologists focused on pride, makes the distinction between what she calls "hubristic pride" and "authentic pride".

Pride may manifest itself in two different ways, but we cannot tell these apart by their outward appearance, she says (Emotion, vol 7, p 789). Both types cause people to tilt their heads back, extend their arms from their body and try to look as large as possible. As Charles Darwin noted in his book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), a proud person looks "swollen or puffed up". So there is a characteristic prideful look, but in contrast to the basic emotions, the face only plays a small role, with a slight smile creeping across it.

Pride also differs from the Big Six in being a "self-conscious" emotion.

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The time-for-change emotion

Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that it is the "feeling that the environment is giving insufficient or contradictory information". But is confusion really an emotion?

For some psychologists, the idea is scandalous. Others describe confusion as the fringiest of the fringe. Nevertheless, Silvia thinks there is a good case to be made for considering confusion as a basic emotion, not least because it is so easy to spot. The brow furrows, the eyes narrow, the lip might even get bitten - you know confusion when you see it. In fact, one study found it was the second most recognisable everyday expression, only surpassed by joy (Emotion, vol 3, p 68).

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For me, gratitude is less an emotion than a state of mind, a perspective, so I would have a hard time adding that one to the list.

In fact, many of these violate the research done by Antonio Damasio into the body-based nature of emotions. He outlines all of this in his excellent book, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (2000). Here is part of an article published just before the book, in which he defines the terms emotion and feeling.
The terms emotion and feeling are usually used interchangeably but I have suggested that they should not be. From a research perspective it is advantageous to use separate terms to designate separable components of this enchained process. The term emotion should be rightfully used to designate a collection of responses triggered from parts of the brain to the body, and from parts of the brain to other parts of the brain, using both neural and humoral routes. The end result of the collection of such responses is an emotional state, defined by changes within the bodyproper, e.g., viscera, internal milieu, and within certain sectors of the brain, e.g., somatosensory cortices; neurotransmitter nuclei in brain stem.

The term feeling should be used to describe the complex mental state that results from the emotional state. That mental state includes: (a.) the representation of the changes that have just occurred in the body-proper and are being signaled to body-representing structures in the central nervous system (or have been implemented entirely in somatosensory structures via ‘as-if-body-loops’); and it also includes (b.) a number of alterations in cognitive processing that are caused by signals secondary to brain-to-brain responses, for instance, signals from neurotransmitter nuclei towards varied sites in telencephalon. (Damasio, 1998)
I think the folks looking at emotions and how universal they might be need to be talking with the folks who understand how emotions, and then feelings, arise in the body - we need a more integrated understanding of the process before we start adding new emotions.

In fact, many or most of what we know as emotions are more correctly termed "feelings" in Damasio's model - and he is the recognized expert in the field. And from there we need to bring the cultural psychologists into the discussion, since they looking at how consciousness is a culturally and environmentally embedded process.

Damasio, A. (1998) Emotion in the perspective of an integrated nervous system. Brain Research Reviews 26: 83–86.

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