An emotion is a psychological state or process that functions in the management of goals. It is typically elicited by evaluating an event as relevant to a goal; it is positive when the goal is advanced, negative when the goal is impeded. The core of an emotion is readiness to act in a certain way (Frijda 1986); it is an urgency, or prioritization, of some goals and plans rather than others. Emotions can interrupt ongoing action; also they prioritize certain kinds of social interaction, prompting, for instance, COOPERATION or conflict.

The term emotional is often used synonymously with the term affective. Emotions proper usually have a clear relation to whatever elicited them. They are often associated with brief (lasting a few seconds) expressions of face and voice, and with perturbation of the autonomic nervous system. Such manifestations often go unnoticed by the person who has the emotion. A consciously recognized emotion lasts minutes or hours. A mood has similar bases to an emotion but lasts longer; whereas an emotion tends to change the course of action, a mood tends to resist disruption. At the longer end of the time spectrum, an emotional disorder, usually defined as a protracted mood plus specific symptoms, lasts from weeks to years. Personality traits, most with an emotional basis, last for years or a lifetime. (Definitions, distinctions, and the philosophical and psychological background of emotions discussed in the next paragraphs, are described in more detail by Oatley and Jenkins 1996.)

Emotions have been analyzed by some of the world's leading philosophers, including Aristotle, DESCARTES, and Spinoza. Following Aristotle, in whose functionalist account emotions were species of cognitive evaluations of events, most philosophical work on emotions has been cognitive. The stoics developed subtle analyses of emotions, arguing that most were deleterious, because people had wrong beliefs and inappropriate goals. Stoic influence has continued. Its modern descendent is cognitive therapy for emotional disorders.

Charles DARWIN (1872) argued that emotional expressions are behavioral equivalents of vestigial anatomical organs like the appendix; they derive from earlier phases of EVOLUTION or of individual development, and in adulthood they occur whether or not they are of any use. According to William JAMES (1884), FOLK PSYCHOLOGY wrongly assumes that an event causes an emotion, which in turn causes a reaction. Instead, he argued that an emotion is a perception of the physiological reactions by the body to the event; emotions give color to experience but, as perceptions of physiological changes, they occur after the real business of producing behavior is over. Following James, there has been a long tradition of regarding emotions as bodily states, and although cognitive approaches now dominate the field, body-based research on emotions continues to be influential (see the third and fourth approaches following). FREUD developed theories of emotional disorder, proposing that severe emotional experiences, whether of trauma or conflict, undermine RATIONAL AGENCY subsequently, and interfere with life.

Cultural distrust of emotions was exacerbated by the work of Darwin, James, and Freud. There seemed to be something wrong with emotions; they were either without useful function in adult life or actively dysfunctional. Starting in the 1950s, however, several influential movements began with cognitive emphases, all stressing function, and all making it clear that emotions typically contribute to rationality instead of being primarily irrational. One result of these movements has been to expand concepts of cognition to include emotion. Among the first cognitive approaches to emotions, in the 1950s, was Bowlby's (see e.g., 1971). Bowlby proposed the idea of emotional attachment of infant to a mother or other caregiver. He was influenced by theories of evolution and of PSYCHOANALYSIS. His compelling analogy was with the ethological idea of imprinting. With attachment -- love -- in infancy, a child's emotional development is based on the child's building a MENTAL MODEL of its relationship with the caregiver (Bowlby called it a "working model") to organize the child's relational goals and plans.

Mental models are also known as schemas. Developmentalists have done much to demonstrate the importance of emotional schemas for structuring close relationships (see SOCIAL COGNITION). Such demonstrations include those of children's models of interaction with violent parents, probably functional in the family where they first occur, but often maladaptive in the outside world where they play a large role in later aggressive delinquency (Dodge, Bates, and Pettit 1990). A parallel, second approach was that of Arnold (e.g., Arnold and Gasson 1954). She proposed that emotions are relational: they relate selves, including physiological substrates, to events in the world. Events are appraised, consciously or unconsciously, for their suitability to the subject's goals, for whether desired objects are available or not, and according to several other features of the event and its context. Appraisal researchers have shown that which emotion is produced by any event depends on which appraisals are made (e.g., Frijda 1986). Work on appraisal was extended by Lazarus (1991) to research on coping and its effects on health. A third approach was also begun in the 1950s, by Tomkins (see, e.g., 1995). He proposed that, based on feedback from bodily processes, particularly from expressions of the face, emotions act as amplifiers to specific motivational systems. Personality is structured by schemas, each with a theme of some emotional issue. Tomkins inspired a surge of research (e.g., Scherer and Ekman 1984) that did much to place the study of emotions on an accepted empirical base. Notable has been the study of facial expressions and their relation to emotions, both developmentally and cross-culturally. Some aspects of such expressions are agreed to be HUMAN UNIVERSALS, although how they are best analyzed remains controversial. A fourth approach occurred with attempts to reconcile the work of James with cognitive ideas: notable were Schachter and Singer (1962), who proposed that emotion was a physiological perturbation, as had also been proposed by James, although not with the distinctive patterning that James had suggested; instead an undifferentiated arousal was made recognizable by cognitive labeling (a kind of appraisal). This work has been extended by Mandler (1984) who, like Simon (see next paragraph) stressed that emotions occur when an ongoing activity is interrupted, and an expectancy is violated.

Prompted by difficulties of COGNITIVE MODELING in capturing what is essential about the organization of human action, Simon (1967) argued that because resources are always finite, any computational system operating in any complex environment needs some system to manage PLANNING, capable of interrupting ongoing processes. The system for handling interruptions can be identified with the emotional system of human beings. An extended idea of Simon's proposal can be put like this: In the ordinary world there are three large problems for orchestrating cognitively based action.

  1. Mental models are always incomplete and sometimes incorrect; resources of time and power are always limited.
  2. Human beings typically have multiple goals, not all of which can be reconciled.
  3. Human beings are those agents who accomplish together what they cannot do alone; hence individual goals and plans are typically parts of distributed cognitive systems.

Although cooperation helps overcome limitations of resources, it exacerbates problems of multiple goals and requires coordination of mental models among distributed agents. These three problems ensure that fully rational solutions to most problems in life are rare. Humans' biologically based solution is the system of emotions. These provide genetically based heuristics for situations that affect ongoing action and that have recurred during evolution (e.g., threats, losses, frustrations), they outline scripts for coor dination with others during cooperation, social threat, interpersonal conflict, etc.; and they serve as bases for constructing new parts of the cognitive system when older parts are found wrong or inadequate.

Much recent research is concerned with effects of emotions and moods. Emotions bias cognitive processing during judgment and inference, giving preferential availability to some heuristics rather than others. For instance, happiness allows unusual associations and improves creative PROBLEM SOLVING (Isen, Daubman, and Nowicki 1987); anxiety constrains ATTENTION to features of the environment concerned with safety or danger; sadness prompts recall from MEMORY of incidents from the past that elicited comparable sadness. Such biases provide bases for both normal functions, and for disordered emotional processing (Mathews and Mac-Leod 1994).

As compared with research on learning or perception, research on emotions has been delayed. With newer cog nitive emphases, however, emotions are seen to serve im-portant intracognitive and interpersonal functions. A remarkable convergence is occurring: as well as support from evidence of social and developmental psychology, the largely functionalist account given here is supported by evidence from animal neuroscience (EMOTION AND THE ANIMAL BRAIN) and human neuropsychology (EMOTION AND THE HUMAN BRAIN). There is growing consensus: emotions are managers of mental life, prompting heuristics that relate the flow of daily events to goals and social concerns.

-- Keith Oatley


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