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The Producing And Expressing Of Emotion








Nowhere more than in connection with our emotions are the close
inter-relations of mind and body seen. All are familiar with the fact
that the emotion of anger tends to find expression in the blow, love in
the caress, fear in flight, and so on. But just how our organism acts in
producing an emotion is less generally understood. Professor James and
Professor Lange have shown us that emotion not only tends to produce
some characteristic form of response, but that the emotion is itself
caused by certain deep-seated physiological reactions. Let us seek to
understand this statement a little more fully.

PHYSIOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OF EMOTION.--We must remember first of all
that all changes in mental states are accompanied by corresponding
physiological changes. Hard, concentrated thinking quickens the heart
beat; keen attention is accompanied by muscular tension; certain sights
or sounds increase the rate of breathing; offensive odors produce
nausea, and so on. So complete and perfect is the response of our
physical organism to mental changes that one psychologist declares it
possible, had we sufficiently delicate apparatus, to measure the
reactions caused throughout the body of a sleeping child by the shadow
from a passing cloud falling upon the closed eyelids.

The order of the entire event resulting in an emotion is as follows: (1)
Something is known; some object enters consciousness coming either
from immediate perception or through memory or imagination. This fact,
or thing known, must be of such nature that it will, (2) set up
deep-seated and characteristic organic response; (3) the feeling
accompanying and caused by these physiological reactions constitutes
the emotion. For example, we may be passing along the street in a
perfectly calm and equable state of mind, when we come upon a teamster
who is brutally beating an exhausted horse because it is unable to draw
an overloaded wagon up a slippery incline. The facts grasped as we take
in the situation constitute the first element in an emotional response
developing in our consciousness. But instantly our muscles begin to grow
tense, the heart beat and breath quicken, the face takes on a different
expression, the hands clench--the entire organism is reacting to the
disturbing situation; the second factor in the rising emotion, the
physiological response, thus appears. Along with our apprehension of the
cruelty and the organic disturbances which result we feel waves of
indignation and anger surging through us. This is the third factor in
the emotional event, or the emotion itself. In some such way as this are
all of our emotions aroused.

ORIGIN OF CHARACTERISTIC EMOTIONAL REACTIONS.--Why do certain facts or
objects of consciousness always cause certain characteristic organic
responses?

In order to solve this problem we shall have first to go beyond the
individual and appeal to the history of the race. What the race has
found serviceable, the individual repeats. But even then it is hard to
see why the particular type of physical response such as shrinking,
pallor, and trembling, which naturally follow stimuli threatening harm,
should be the best. It is easy to see, however, that the feeling which
prompts to flight or serves to deter from harm's way might be useful. It
is plain that there is an advantage in the tense muscle, the set teeth,
the held breath, and the quickened pulse which accompany the emotion of
anger, and also in the feeling of anger itself, which prompts to the
conflict. But even if we are not able in every case to determine at this
day why all the instinctive responses and their correlate of feeling
were the best for the life of the race, we may be sure that such was the
case; for Nature is inexorable in her dictates that only that shall
persist which has proved serviceable in the largest number of cases.

An interesting question arises at this point as to why we feel emotion
accompanying some of our motor responses, and not others. Perceptions
are crowding in upon us hour after hour; memory, thought, and
imagination are in constant play; and a continuous motor discharge
results each moment in physical expressions great or small. Yet, in
spite of these facts, feeling which is strong enough to rise to an
emotion is only an occasional thing. If emotion accompanies any form of
physical expression, why not all? Let us see whether we can discover any
reason. One day I saw a boy leading a dog along the street. All at once
the dog slipped the string over its head and ran away. The boy stood
looking after the dog for a moment, and then burst into a fit of rage.
What all had happened? The moment before the dog broke away everything
was running smoothly in the experience of the boy. There was no
obstruction to his thought or his plans. Then in an instant the
situation changes. The smooth flow of experience is checked and baffled.
The discharge of nerve currents which meant thought, plans, action, is
blocked. A crisis has arisen which requires readjustment. The nerve
currents must flow in new directions, giving new thought, new plans, new
activities--the dog must be recaptured. It is in connection with this
damming up of nerve currents from following their wonted channels that
the emotion emerges. Or, putting it into mental terms, the emotion
occurs when the ordinary current of our thought is violently
disturbed--when we meet with some crisis which necessitates a
readjustment of our thought relations and plans, either temporarily or
permanently.

THE DURATION OF AN EMOTION.--If the required readjustment is but
temporary, then the emotion is short-lived, while if the readjustment is
necessarily of longer duration, the emotion also will live longer. The
fear which follows the thunder is relatively brief; for the shock is
gone in a moment, and our thought is but temporarily disturbed. If the
impending danger is one that persists, however, as of some secret
assassin threatening our life, the fear also will persist. The grief of
a child over the loss of someone dear to him is comparatively short,
because the current of the child's life has not been so closely bound up
in a complexity of experiences with the lost object as in the case of an
older person, and hence the readjustment is easier. The grief of an
adult over the loss of a very dear friend lasts long, for the object
grieved over has so become a part of the bereaved one's experience that
the loss requires a very complete readjustment of the whole life. In
either case, however, as this readjustment is accomplished the emotion
gradually fades away.

EMOTIONS ACCOMPANYING CRISES IN EXPERIENCE.--If our description of the
feelings has been correct, it will be seen that the simpler and milder
feelings are for the common run of our everyday experience; they are the
common valuers of our thought and acts from hour to hour. The emotions,
or more intense feeling states, are, however, the occasional high tide
of feeling which occurs in crises or emergencies. We are angry on some
particular provocation, we fear some extraordinary factor in our
environment, we are joyful over some unusual good fortune.





Next: The Control Of Emotions

Previous: Problems In Observation And Introspection



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