The Root of Our Emotions

Last time I posted (here) it was about the progression from benign conspiracy theories to fake news to hate vitriol.  As much of an unfortunate start that benign conspiracy theories are, an even worse ending is when they morph into hate vitriol.

How does that happen?  And why?  And more importantly, is this relevant to the partisanship and polarizations we are experiencing in the country and world today?

A very important book, Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman, which deals with universally experienced emotions (valid cross-culturally), was mentioned in the last post.  I realized that it has such great importance that it was worth the time to look at some major takeaways.  These will, I hope, help us not only to understand and manage our own emotions, but also be able to recognize the effects of emotions in others’ behaviors, whether as individuals, groups, or nations.  That, I trust, will help shed a brighter light on current events.

The Takeaways

First the primary takeaways (basic things we should know about our emotional selves), and then in a following post we’ll look at some of the various cascade effects and consequences of “emotions unchained” [emphasis mine]:

  • The universal emotions we experience are (in family groups of related emotions; less positive/more negative going down the list)
    • Positive (signaled more by voice than face)
      • Ecstasy
      • Joy (unconditional)
      • Happiness (conditional)
      • Wonder
      • Contentment
    • “Neutral”
      • Excitement (alone, or merged with one or more positive emotions)
      • Relief (always preceded by some other emotion, positive or negative)
    • Negative (signaled primarily by facial expressions)
      • Sadness (passive; resignation and hopelessness)
      • Surprise
      • Agony (protest; attempts to deal actively with source of loss)
      • Fear
      • Contempt
      • Anger
      • Disgust
    • Emotions are what motivate our lives. We organize our lives (and behave) to maximize the experience of positive emotions and minimize the experience of negative emotions (page: xxi)
    • Very importantly, the so-called negative emotions are not always experienced as unpleasant (58). (This is not necessarily obvious and is an unexpected but pertinent revelation)
    • Emotions are so powerful that they triumph over hunger, sex, and the will to survive (xxi)
    • Up until 1969 most psychologists accepted the theory that human behavior is all nurture and no nature, that everything in human behavior was instilled by parenting, family, clan, and environment (“It Takes A Village”). Little credence was given to inherited factors, the genetics that lead to a person’s temperament (12).  (Some anthropologists still remain unconvinced, even today)
    • More recent research has demonstrated that our emotions are a “process,” a particular kind of rapid automatic appraisal occurring before we think about a situation that is heavily influenced by both our evolutionary (inherited) history as well as our personal (experiential) past. It’s a combination of both nurture and nature (13).
    • Since we are primarily social beings (it’s tough to exist alone in a relational vacuum), emotions are primarily about how we deal with other people, and how we build and react to the relationships in our lives (24).
    • Separate from emotions themselves, the events that trigger emotional reactions are influenced not just by our individual experience (nurture) but also by our common ancestral past (nature) (29).
    • There are nine paths that personal triggers can use to turn on our emotions (37):
      • Operation of the automatic-appraisal mechanism
      • Reflective appraisal (reflecting on an event)
      • Recollection of a past emotional experience
      • Imagination
      • Talking about a past emotional event
      • Empathy
      • Others instructing us (Regression to the Cultural Mean)
      • Violation of social norms (Violation of the Cultural Mean)
      • Voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion
    • When gripped by an inappropriate emotion, we interpret what is happening in a way that fits with how we are immediately feeling and ignore knowledge that does not fit (self-defense in our Comfort Stronghold; avoidance of the Repugnant Question) (39).
      • Emotions change how we see the world and how we interpret the actions of others. We do not seek to challenge why we are feeling a particular emotion; instead, we seek to confirm it (39).  (We separate others into “Them” or “Us”)
      • During an emotional event, we are unable to incorporate information that does not fit, maintain, or justify the emotion we are feeling (Gap Theory) (39).
    • Our temperament is a genetically (nature) based emotional disposition (64).
    • The inherited central mechanism that directs our emotional behavior is known as an affect program; we have either (65-66):
      • A Closed program, in which nothing can be inserted by experience; or
      • An Open program, which allows for additional input/growth during one’s life span.
    • Cultural traditions and upbringing within a culture, along with temperament, play a role in shaping one’s attitude about feeling or displaying sadness and agony (and other emotions; Regression to the Cultural Mean) (91).
    • Most of us presume that everyone else feels an emotion the way we do, or that our way is the only correct way (97). (This is Solipsism: “If I don’t know it, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t exist; if I don’t understand it, it’s wrong”)
    • Anger controls; anger punishes; anger retaliates; and anger calls forth anger (111).
      • The personality trait that plays a central role in anger is hostility (125).
    • Contempt is related to but different from disgust (180-1):
      • Contempt is only experienced about people or the actions of people;
      • There is an element of condescension toward the object of contempt (a feeling of moral superiority);
      • The offense is degrading, but one need not necessarily get away from it, as one would in disgust.
    • Disgust (removing us from what is revolting) is triggered by four primary culturally learned interpersonal triggers (175):
      • The strange;
      • The diseased;
      • The misfortunate; and
      • The morally tainted (as culturally defined, outside the Comfort Bubble or Stronghold)
    • Emotional episodes can differ (232):
      • In the speed of emotional onset;
      • In the strength of the emotional response;
      • In the duration of the emotional response; and
      • In how long it takes to recover and return to a baseline state.
    • The frequency of emotional episodes is a crucial feature in understanding an individual’s emotional profile (233).

While all these takeaways may seem like a lot, just remember that we are very complicated beings.  And also very stubborn.  Ponder them awhile.

Next post we will look at how emotions cascade through our lives and some of the resulting consequences of behavior.

(Check out the book.  It is enlightening).

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 00: Bubbles, 05: People, 06: Incomplete Information, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Gap Theory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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