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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

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.


objects of consciousness always cause certain characteristic organic


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


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.


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.