What is Emotion? Meaning, Types, 3 Emotional Responses, and More

What is Emotion?

Can you imagine life without feelings and emotions? Probably not, if it is. Life would be motionless, colorless, joyless, and dull without emotion. People would no longer display fear, anger, sorrow, surprise, or joy.

Emotion is the feeling that is expressed in terms of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. It is our surroundings that attempt to express such feelings.

The word emotion is derived from the Latin word “Emovere”, meaning to move, stir up, agitate, or excite. Emotion is a stirred-up, disturbed state that is experienced throughout the individual’s body. Emotions do not tend to last long. They disturb glandular, muscular, and behavioral functions. An individual in an emotional state is in a state of disequilibrium. In this state, people say and do the things that they would not normally do and say. The overall adjustment may be disturbed. People feel unusual energy or are rooted to the spot.

Charles Darwin’s (1872, 1965)book “The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animal” suggested that emotional expressions have a biological basis. He emphasized that animals and humans have some similar postural expressions. Most animals, when angry, frown and bare their teeth. These emotional expressions help the animal to adapt to the environment because they communicate much information to the organism.

A collection of 92 definitions were listed in one review (Kleinginna and Kleinginna, 1981). All the definitions pointed out emotion as an aroused state that has a physical, cognitive, and behavioral component. For example, an emotion of fear arises from different physiological changes such as blood pressure, respiration, glandular responses, etc. Cognitive changes such as sensing danger, helplessness, etc. And, behavioral changes such as verbal and non-verbal expressions as trembling, paling of the skin, etc.

Emotion Vs Mood

The term emotion has been closely associated with the word affect and mood. The word affect is used as a broad term covering both emotion and mood (George, 1996). Think of affect as a huge tree where emotion and mood are the big branches.

Emotions are intense feelings that are directed at someone or something (Frijda, 1993). Moods are less intense and mild than emotions. When subjective feelings associated with emotions are seen for a certain time period, it is called mood.

The difference between emotions and moods can be clearly explained with the help of an example. Suppose you had a serious discussion with your friends after you lost a game that resulted in your team being knocked out of a tournament. You feel angry (emotion) at her. For some days the stress creates some pessimistic attitudes and leaves you exhausted. The incident takes you to a different defused mental state, called mood.

Felt Emotions Vs Displayed Emotions

Felt emotion is a natural, spontaneous emotion. They are the real, true emotions of the individual, whereas displayed emotions are expressed about time, situation, or nature of the job, which is fixed according to the rules and regulations set by the organization. They’re learned and acquired to be sociable and please others.

Display emotion may lead to an unrealistic way of behavior. Organizations need their employees to disguise their true emotions and display emotions that are effective to their job. A Nepali proverb is quite appropriate to cite here “Mukhma Ram Ram (Displayed emotion) Baglima Churra (Felt emotion)”, which means a person is displaying God’s nature outwardly, but feeling devilish inside. Another translation is that the person is chanting God’s name but keeping the knife in the pocket. Likewise, if a person slips in the mud we console the person outwardly (display emotion), but inside we feel like laughing (felt emotion) at the person.

The 3 Key Elements of Emotion (Emotional Responses)

Our emotional responses can be seen in three ways, they are physiological responses, cognitive responses, and behavioral responses. Let’s understand better, how our emotions are expressed?

Physiological Responses

When we are excited, terrified, or enraged we sense that something is happening in our bodies, but we can not perceive those changes directly. A terrified person may feel a clutching, sinking sensation in the chest, and a knot in the stomach. A frightened individual is paralyzed with fear, while an angry person is ready to explode. Psycho-psychologist uses different recording instruments to provide a great deal of information about the changes in the physiological condition of the body when an individual has an emotional feeling. The primary changes that occur are:

  • The changes in circulation, which are related to blood pressure, heart rate, pulse rate, and blood composition.
  • Change in respiration.
  • Change in psycho-galvanic response (Perspiration or Shivering).
  • Change in the digestive system.
  • Change in glandular response.
  • Change in brain waves.
  • Change in pupils of the eye.

Heart rate increases with anger, fear, and sadness can decrease with disgust. Compared with anger, fear is associated with lower blood pressure, cooler surface temperature, and less blood flows in the body’s periphery. Since our body needs more sugar to combat the emotional situation, a rise in sugar or adrenaline level in our blood is seen. When an individual is in an emotional state, the skin perspires, and the individual shivers. When angry, both heart rate and finger temperature increase. The individual’s breathing comes in short, quick gaps when excited, and slowly when depressed. Different hormonal secretions occur during different emotional states, causing different stimuli. For example, the sexually stimulated person will experience a genital response.

Emotion also travels through brain circuits and is seen in brain waves. When a cat’s limbic system was stimulated in one area, it retreated at the sight of a mouse. When stimulated in another area, the cat was made furious and it became fully erect, claws out, and its pupil dilated whenever psychologist Heinrich and Kluver and neurosurgeon Paul Bucy (1939) moved the electrode slightly within the amygdala.

Cognitive Response (Perception and Thinking)

The subjective and personal descriptive expressions of an emotional feeling by the individual are the cognitive aspects of emotion. People feel diverse in fear, anger, and sexual arousal because cognitively they are different.

It contains verbal as well as nonverbal evaluative reports of experience. It may be filled with pleasant, unpleasant, or mixed emotional expressions. For example, belief in danger, desire to avoid, desire to hurt, provoking, thought of helplessness, worthlessness, inferiority complexes, feeling of superiority, etc.

Behavioral Response

Emotion can be expressed in different facial, vocal languages, or nonverbal behavior. In general, when we are happy, we smile and when we are sad, we cry. Facial expressions are natural and spontaneous conveyers of emotions. Smiles, frown, furrowed brows, laugh, etc. are examples.

Our angry face is often expressed by lowered brows, widened eyes, and an open mouth with exposed teeth. In one study, Ekman (1980) estimated that human facial muscles can create 7000 different expressions. Different parts of the face like eyes, nose, forehead, lips clearly convey emotional expressions. Let’s talk of these,

Eyes – Eyes also convey emotional behaviors. For example, eyes open wide in fear, terror, and curiosity, eyes turn inward in suspicion and bowed in depression. Eyebrows raised and pulled together show fear. Robert Kestenbaum (1992) discovered that we read fear mostly from the eyes and happiness from the mouth.

Nose – The shape of the nose differs in disgust and delight. A wrinkled nose protruded lower lip, and tongue reflect disgust when we smell spoiled food. Nostrils are wide open in delight.

Forehead – A wrinkled vertical and horizontal forehead conveys different emotional states. Wrinkles in the middle of the forehead signals fear.

Lips – Emotional behaviors are easily conveyed through tight, smiling, wide open, protruding, and kissing lips. A smile can reflect enjoyment, pleasure, praise, relief, friendship, etc. Likewise, a smile with raised cheeks is better than without it. By smiling warmly on the outside, makes feel you better inside.

Voice – Expressions of love and care can easily be understood through a person’s voice. A harsh vocal sound, trembling voice, soft sound also convey different emotions. A person is judged based on his words and the tone of his voice. It is easy to trace out whether the individual is in a state of happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, surprise, and contempt through his or her language.

Body Language – Rubbing hands, clenching fists, shrugging shoulders, red ears, convey different emotions. Folded arms signify either irritation or relaxation.

Facial Expressions – Emotional expression for six basic emotions such as sadness, happiness, surprise, disgust, anger, and fear are about the same in different cultures and can easily be recognized. The facial expression of six basic emotions involves the brow and forehead, eyes, eyelids, and the nose, and the lower face movements of several sets of muscles. Let us understand how the six basic emotions are expressed;

  • Anger – Eyes have a penetrating stare, vertical crease in the brow, lids are tensed, lips are pressed together or opened and pushed forward.
  • Disgust – Raised cheeks, wrinkled nose, lower lip either pulled up or lowered and slightly protruding, the upper lip is raised, the lower eyelid is pushed up, and brows are lowered.
  • Fear – Eyebrows are raised and drawn together, wrinkles in the middle of the forehead, eyes are open and tense, the mouth is open, lips drew back tightly.
  • Happiness – Smile, raised cheeks, raised corners of the mouth and crows feet, teeth sometimes are exposed.
  • Sadness – Uplifted inner corner of the eyebrows, lower upper eyelids, raised corners of the upper eyelid, down-turned lips.
  • Surprise – Raised brow, the eyes are open wide, dropped jaw, wrinkled forehead, open mouth.

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