Are you an emotional person? Do you think about things a lot and dwell on issues that maybe shouldn’t be given so much time? Me too!
Why do we ‘feel’ so much?
Emotions are a sub-class of feelings. They are short lived. When an emotion persists for a long time, it becomes a mood, or if it is a characteristic of a person, a personality trait. Emotions are conscious feelings. We are always aware of them. Emotions are intentional; for example, angry at someone, in love with someone, afraid of something. They are largely introspective and subjective in nature and are a huge hindrance to the expression of logical thought and reason.
Darwin provided the first clearly objective study of emotion. He highlighted the role of facial and bodily expression in emotion and stressed the role of physiological change in emotion. Darwin was interested in the expressions of emotions in animals and man. He suggested that some expressions functioned to gratify personal desires, that certain states of mind lead to certain useful actions and that excitation of the nervous system affects systemic functioning.
Emotional experience is largely due to the experience of bodily changes; a changed situation leads to a changed bodily state. Most people believe that emotions give rise to emotion-specific actions. For example; "I’m crying because I’m sad", or "I ran away because I was scared", but psychologists suggest first we react to a situation (running away and crying happen before the emotion), and then we interpret our actions into an emotional response. In this way, emotions serve to explain and organize our own actions to us.
Before emotion occurs, people make an automatic, often unconscious; assessment of what is happening and what it may mean for them or those they care about. From that perspective, emotion becomes not just rational but a necessary component of survival. Cognitions occur early in the causal chain and are therefore primary. Emotions reflect people’s construal of the world and are balenced reactions to events, agents and objects.
Physiologically speaking there are different patterns of ANS activation between anger and fear. Heart rate acceleration increases during disgust, anger, and joy. Response specificity, especially facial expressiveness supports the view that specific emotions have unique patterns of reactivity. Happiness, sadness, serenity and agitation can be discriminated from one another not only by subjective emotion but also by autonomic response patterns. Brain regions involved in the regulation of emotion include the Frontal Cortex, The Brain Stem, The Hippocampal Formation and the Amygdala. PET scans show that when looking at threatening words, the amygdala is activated.
Faces are arguably the most important factor in the communication of emotion. People show a fairly high degree of agreement about emotions being expressed by faces and that for certain emotions, these patterns are reliable across cultures. The facial expression itself causes the experience of the emotion. They are another component of the non-verbal communication system. Facial expressions are designed to achieve purpose.
Basic emotions are Fear, Disgust, Anger, Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Contempt and Embarrassment. These basic emotions exist in many if not all cultures. They also appear in some higher animals. They are associated with characteristic facial expressions and have functional aspects which increase survival chances. Basic expressions are associated with and caused by basic emotions. They arise without conscious effort; however, they can be modified by ‘display rules’ or conscious effort.
The two sides of the brain are somehow differentially involved in the expression of the emotion. There is greater right hemisphere involvement in producing facial expressions. Vocal form (as opposed to vocal content, which is the meaning of words and sentences) appears to be similar to that of facial expression in communicating emotion.
Emotions are adaptive states of action readiness but these are not necessarily rational. It is only through awareness of emotions that emotions can be modulated such that they contribute to rational action choice. Awareness is a complex process that can break down in several different ways, leading to irrationality. For example: Breakdowns in attention, Lack of appropriate concepts, Failures in revisor, and Failures in modulating action.
Emotions have been designed by either a natural selection to serve an adaptive function such as a communicative function (Darwin) and/or an action management function.
So next time somebody accuses you of being highly emotional, just remember it is the bodily changes within the Automatic Nervous System that is causing your emotional responses.