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PSYC18 2009 – Psychology of Emotion. Professor: Gerald Cupchik Office: S634 Email: Office Hours: Thursdays 10-11; 2-3 Phone: 416-287-7467. TA: Michelle Hilscher Office: S142C Email: Office Hours: Thursdays 10-11 am. Course website:

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PSYC18 2009 – Psychology of Emotion

Professor: Gerald Cupchik

Office: S634


Office Hours: Thursdays 10-11; 2-3

Phone: 416-287-7467

TA: Michelle Hilscher

Office: S142C


Office Hours: Thursdays 10-11 am

Course website:


Oatley, Keltner & Jenkins (2006, 2nd Ed.) Understanding Emotions.

***Midterm Marks:

If you have not already received your midterm mark, please email Michelle with your full name and student # (***


The Social Constructionist Perspective


We learn from our society the sets of rules that implicitly govern our emotional performances.

This approach emerges from the social constructionist perspective of the 1970s which focused more on the social self than the personal self.

Emotions are associated with attitudes, beliefs, judgments, and desires reflecting the cultural values of particular communities.

So appraisals are not seen as innate responses to evolutionarily significant events.

Emotions reflect moral judgments about events in the world.


The Social Constructionist Perspective

As we know, emotions used to be referred to as “passions”, a word that implies the experience of passivity, as if emotions were alien forces which overcome and possess an individual.



Averill’s approach to emotion is primarily metaphorical. He sees emotions as ACTIONS rather than passions.

Emotional behaviour is engaged in to realize particular social and individual goals.

Emotions don’t just happen to us but they are things we do willfully.

The experience of emotions as passive passions is an interpretation or attribution we make about our own behaviour. We thereby disclaim responsibility for what we do when we are emotional.


According to Frijda, the experience of passivity is part of what it means to be emotional in our culture.

Social functions of emotions:

Fear can be seen as one of the means by which social norms are maintained in the regulation of social behaviour.

We can compare the emotional lexicons of different cultures to get a sense for which emotions are important in that culture. (e.g., absence of fear in a warrior culture)

The acquisition of a culturally appropriate lexicon by children is central to the socialization of emotion and is a major determinant of changes in children’s experiences of emotion.


Basic Emotions and Darwinian Survival

Fear and a situation of danger.

Anger and the need for defense.

Love and the need for caring attention.

Complex Emotions and Social Construction

Shame, embarrassment, guilt and so on… more emphasis on situational interpretation.


The Aesthetics of Action Theory: Reaction model of aesthetics.

  • The main idea is that cultural materials are chosen which embody particular qualities that modulate feeling dimensions like pain-pleasure and calm-excitement.
  • Want to manipulate a dimension of experience like pleasure or excitement.
  • Choose films, books, so on, which embody properties that will modulate these bodily states.
  • Romantic film or book and the need for sentimental positive feelings.
  • Horror or suspense movies and the need for excitement.

Experience oriented approaches to emotion: William James & Peripheralism

Now we begin the BIG TRANSITION from the Action Approach to a more Experience Oriented Approach that encompasses James’s PERIPHERALISM, PSYCHODYNAMICS, & PHENOMENOLOGY.

Let me review the transition we are about to make…

The first phase of the course focused on Action Theory which has been with us in various guises since the British Enlightenment of the 1700s. This theory shaped both our ideas about emotion and even extended to an explanation of how drama works.

Philosophers of the Enlightenment, like John Locke, emphasized a practical approach to life in which we attempt to realize goals and evaluate events in the environment in terms of how beneficial they are to us. Our experience of pleasure or pain is an index of whether or not we have succeeded.


Philosophers of the Enlightenment favoured a kind of Classical approach to art and drama which emphasized the manipulation of people’s emotion through the author’s control over action, place and time.

In the 1800s, the Darwinian perspective emphasized challenges posed by the physical and social worlds and this carried over into the early 1900s with McDougall’s emphasis on our “capacity to strive toward an end or ends, to seek goals, to sustain and renew activity adopted to secure consequences beneficial to the organism or the species.”

Walter Cannon, the great American physiologist, extended this idea with his Emergency Response theory, the mobilization of our Sympathetic Nervous System as part of Fear or Anger responses to threat or frustration.


Duffy and Schachter, among others, continued this tradition of separating a planful mind, on the one hand, from a body whose function was to provide energy and focus for the problem at hand.

It is crucial to remember that, among other things, this Action Theory approach involves a separation of mind and body. The mind does the planning and the body helps execution or can hinder it if the state of excitation becomes too great.


The EXPERIENCE APPROACH should be placed in the tradition of Romanticism which emphasized the role of imagination and interpretation both in everyday life and in relation to art, poetry and drama. Recall their focus on critical life episodes or scenes that reveal something special about the nature of our lived-world.

WILLIAM JAMES (1842-1910) and the Peripheral Approach:

EMOTION = The Experience of Bodily Changes

James’s basic principle was that the body is central to the generation and experience of emotion.

While Darwin was primarily concerned with the expression of emotion, James was interested in the experience of emotion.


Common sense leads us to say the following about the sequence of emotional events:

  • We PERCEIVE an emotion eliciting stimulus
  • We EXPERIENCE emotion
  • We EXPRESS it
  • For example:
  • We lose our fortune, are sorry and weep.
  • We are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike.
  • We meet a bear, are frightened and run.

James argued that this sequence is wrong…


In other words:

1. We feel sorry because we cry.

2. We feel angry because we strike.

3. We feel afraid because we tremble.

These changes are automatic responses of the body and the experience of these changes is the emotion.


James listed three kinds of bodily changes:

  • Expressive behaviour
  • Instrumental acts such as running away
  • Physiological “changes” in the heart & circulatory system
  • The modern interpretation is that:
  • “Bodily changes” = “Visceral changes”

The increase in sympathetic nervous system activity controls the functioning of the glands and other internal organs such as the heart and stomach. These changes are expressed as sweating, salivation, shedding tears, secreting digestive juices and stomach motility.

Implication: Different emotions are accompanied by recognizably different bodily states. James’s theory permits an almost infinite number of emotions because it associates individual emotions with specific physiological states. Each emotion would be characterized by a specific physiological package.


This indirectly leads to the idea that the voluntary arousal or

manifestation of bodily changes should produce emotions

(e.g., “put on a happy face”).

James was influenced by his own introspections:

1. “Unmotivated emotion” – attacks of anxiety, panic or fear in the absence of an appropriate cause.

Also, anxiety attacks could sometimes be alleviated by controlling one’s breathing and changing one’s posture.

2. Persons who could not experience any feelings from his or her body (corporeal anaesthesia).


Carl Lange (1834 – 1900) developed a similar theory… the bodily concomitants come first, followed by the experience of emotion.

James also distinguished between COARSE and SUBTLE emotions.

1. COARSE EMOTIONS are fixed action patterns and are wired-in.

2. SUBTLE EMOTIONS are learned or acquired (e.g., resentment). They can be moral, intellectual or aesthetic emotions and feelings.


Walter B. Cannon (1871 – 1945), the great American physiologist, offered a critique of William James’s theory which led to a rejection of his work for a period of time.

Cannon did his research on the physiology of digestion and disturbances of digestion which led him to reject James’s ideas about “autonomic specificity”.

The 1920s was a period in medical history when psychosomatic medicine was established as a separate discipline… for example in the area of stress.



1. Total separation of the viscera from the CNS does not alter emotional behaviour.

2. The same visceral changes occur in very different emotional states and non-emotional states.

3. The viscera are relatively insensitive structures.

4. Visceral changes are too slow to be a source of emotional feeling.

5. Artificial induction of the visceral changes typical of strong emotion does not produce them. This is where he applied the data from Maranon’s study about the 79% who received an injection but did not experience an emotion.

The most important points are Number 2 and 3!





Cannon assumed that the cerebral cortex constantly inhibits emotional expressions that are integrated in the thalamus. Perception of an emotion evoking situation produces cortical disinhibition and frees the thalamic centres from their normal restraint. When disinhibition occurs, the emotional expression automatically appears. Incoming sensory impulses from the viscera and skeletal muscles arrive at the thalamus and are relayed to the cortex. This gives conscious experience an emotional quality. Cannon therefore argued that emotional reactions are coordinated at subcortical levels. This is an example of the Centralist Approach to emotion.

James had argued that there are no special brain centres for emotion. So James’s peripheral approach to emotion can be contrasted with the centralist approach in which cognition filters perception and selects behaviour.


“Awareness of one’s own facial expressions is the emotion.”


Floyd Allport (1890 - 1978) argued in 1924 in support of James’s idea that feedback from facial expressions could help differentiate emotions. Accordingly, afferent (incoming) feedback from the face differentiates anger from fear.

Sylvan Tomkins (1911-1991) maintained in the 1960s that feedback from facial muscles differentiates emotions. Accordingly, affect is primarily facial behaviour and secondarily it is bodily behaviour, outer skeletal and inner visceral activity.


On what basis does Tomkins maintain this position?

1. A newborn exhibits greater responsiveness to facial and head stimulation than to bodily stimulation.

2. The rapid development of head movement, visual fixation and eye-hand coordination. Standing and walking appear later.

3. The greater density of afferent-efferent channels moving information between the face and the brain.

4. The facial muscles show greater resistance to habituation.

5. The face is the centre of affective expression.


Ekman and Friesen (1960s) also emphasized the high sending capacity of the face.

1. Greater number of discriminable stimulus patterns due to the relative anatomical independence of the brow-forehead, eyes-lid-bridge of nose and lower face including cheeks, nose, mouth, chin and jaw. (Science Centre)

2. Physical potential for rapid muscular change or “low transmission time” permits facial displays to evolve drastically over short periods of time. This relates to the concept of “micro-momentary affect displays” as brief as 1/50th of a second.

Primary Affect List: Happiness, interest, surprise, fear, anger, disgust and sadness



The face is the place for emotion!!

1. Afferent-efferent routes

2. Anatomical independence

3. Rapid muscular change


More About Ekman and Friesen:

Darwin had proposed that facial expressions would be universally recognized so Ekman and Friesen tried to demonstrate this.

Their argument is that if emotional expressions are subject to evolution by natural selection, members of the same species must exhibit the same emotional expressions and people should be able to recognize them.

Ekman and Friesen studied people who were ‘visually isolated’ from the West (the Fore in New Guinea). They used pictures of facial expressions involving happiness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness. Subjects could discriminate between facial expressions representing these emotions but there was some confusion between fear and surprise.


More About Ekman and Friesen:

1. Emotional expressions represent a “basic”, “primary”, or “fundamental” list of wired-in emotions.

2. These basic emotions are essential to survival and have correlated facial expressions which others can decode.

Culturally Defined Display Rules:

Patterns of expression management learned while being socialized in a particular culture (e.g., American students felt it was more appropriate to display sadness to one’s friends and family than did Japanese students.)

Non-Verbal Leakage:

Emotion escapes through a non-monitored channel…such as nervous tapping of feet at a job interview. You did not realize you were doing it and so did not intentionally bring it under control.


Spontaneous versus Posed Facial Expressions:

This discussion has focused on spontaneous facial expressions but posed ones should be considered too. Are you going to feel the same emotional experience if you are faking a smile?

Pure Expressions of Emotion and Affect Blends:

Affect blends are combinations of primary affects in response to particular situations.

1. There are no pure facial expressions!

2. The role of context in the interpretation

of affect blends is fundamental!


Carroll Izard: Dimensional and Category Approaches to Facial Expressions

Dimensional Approach:

This approach assumes that emotion is not a special state and can be related to behaviour in general. It essentially reflects bodily states and activity. This underlies the Action Theory perspective.

Spencer (1890) differentiated between agreeable and disagreeable feelings (or pain versus pleasure) as sensory experiences.

Wundt (1896) also distinguished three dimensions of affective experience:

1. Pleasant - Unpleasant

2. Relaxation - Tension

3. Calm - Excitement


Category Approach:

This approach postulates basic or primary affects which form the basis for emotion. Emotional experience is affected by facial expressions and neural patterning. This is more perceptual and experience oriented.

Izard associates emotion categories with:

1. Innately determined neural substrates

2. Characteristic facial expressions

3. A distinctive subjective or phenomenological quality

Izard’s list of emotions:

Interest, joy, distress, anger, contempt, fear, shame and guilt


Schlosberg (1954) distinguished three dimensions of facial expression:

1. Pleasant - Unpleasant

2. Attention - Rejection

3. Sleep - Tension

Osgood (1954) distinguished three dimensions of connotative meaning in words using the Semantic Differential

1. Evaluation (pleasant-unpleasant)

2. Activation (relaxed-tense)

3. Potency (weak-powerful)

Another Way to Think About Dimensions:









Psychodynamics & the Experience Approach

Consider a contrast between the objective & subjective approaches in psychology.

Positivism goes hand in hand with an objective approach in science. In language use, every word must have a single meaning specified by an operation or scientific definition. It is nomothetic or rule oriented and searches for generallaws.

Romanticism fits with a subjective approach. We find the language of romanticism in myths and in everyday speech. Precise and narrow language cannot capture the complexities of psychology and personal life. It is ideographic and concerned with individualmeanings in life.


For psychodynamic theorists, behaviours in everyday life can refer to many meanings at once. People are understood as behaving in ways that are intentional and purposive though this might be unconscious.

The goal of the psychodynamic viewpoint is to interpret and not to predict. It does not try to explain which is the goal of mechanistic and behavioural psychology.

Mapping out the multiple referents of behaviour is fundamentally different from identifying causal or determining antecedents.


Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) believed in the Darwinian view of humans. The ultimate source of human meaning lies in biological instincts inherited through the process of naturalselection.


From the Psychodynamic Viewpoint:

1. Emotion is a qualitatively different phenomenon from thought.

2. Emotion is motivational in life and is more powerful than thought most of the time.

3. Emotion, more than thought, refers to some additional invisible unconscious processes.

4. Emotion expresses those aspects of a person’s fundamental nature that are not readily apparent to the conscious mind.


From the Psychodynamic Viewpoint:

So, every emotion is the manifest content of a complicated psychological process which is largely unconscious.

* The unconscious origins of emotion are the latent content.

* The manifest content expresses the latent content in some altered form.


Emotion goes beyond the immediate situation. People carry around with them latent concerns from situation to situation.


* Emotion is NOT a behaviour which is a function of the environment.

* Emotion is NOT quite what it appears to be consciously.

To understand an emotion one must seek out the latent content of the emotion and relate it to the fundamental nature of the person.

Freud worked with the notion of instinct or drive. An instinct is genetically determined and, when operative, it produces a state of psychic tension or excitation. This tension prompts the person to act which leads to gratification and the cessation of excitation.


Homeostatic Model:

Tension --> Motor Activity --> Cessation of Tension

This model reflects the deterministic philosophy that Freud was trained in. The human organism is seen as a complex energy system. It derives its energy from food and expends it for various purposes including: circulation, respiration, perceiving, thinking and remembering.

Energy that was directed to psychological work was called psychicenergy. We start with an absolute amount of psychic energy which is given over to different activities.


The instinct concept links psychology and physiology. It is a psychological representation of an inner somatic source of excitation.

1. the bodily excitation is called a need

2. the psychological representation is a wish

For example: consider the state of hunger.

Physiological condition of nutritional deficit in the tissues of the body leads to --> Wish for food


Four Characteristics of an Instinct:

1. Source - bodily condition or need

2. Aim - to abolish the deficiency

3. Object - activity involved in satisfying the need

4. Impetus - force or strength determined by the intensity of the underlying need

This is an internal tension reduction homeostatic model

The source and aim are constant throughout life but the objects or means to satisfy the needs can change. This implies that psychic energy is displaceable from object to object.


All adult interests, preferences, tastes and habits are displacements of energy from original object choices.

* The life instinct relates to survival and the form of its energy is called libido. Freud focused on the sexual aspect of this instinct.

* The death instinct involves aggressive drives and was described after World War I.

Freud arrived at his psychodynamic approach based on evidence from hysterical symptoms and actions performed under post-hypnotic suggestion.


Unconscious mental events can manifest themselves in behaviour. Ideas can be unconscious and very strong and this leads to the idea of “inadmissability to consciousness.”

Unconscious ideas which can become conscious are called preconscious ideas. Those denied access are called unconscious.


Repression: Ideas charged with affect are repressed and the idea and affect are separated.

The affect (1) can be inhibited, (2) remain in consciousness but attached to another idea or (3) it can undergo transformation into anxiety.

These repressed ideas become organized into and expressed as fantasies.

Consider the contrast between PRIMARY and SECONDARY mental processes.