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What are emotions?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:25 PM

Ekman, P., & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.). (1994). The nature of emotion. New York: Oxford University Press. Cited by 225.

What researchers can agree on

From the epilogue that Ekman and Davidson use to summarize their collection of essays from a wide range of emotion researchers. Here is what "most" agree (this is typed verbatim, Ekman and Davidson 1994: 412): 1. There is information processing and evaluation of events that provoke an emotion. There is divergence about just how to characterize those processes, and to what extent there might be universal features. 2. There are expressive and physiological changes that are to some extent distinctive for each emotion. There is divergence about: (a) whether there is a distinctive signal for every emotion, although nearly all agree that there is a distinctive signal for some emotions; (b) whether there are distinctive changes in autonomic nervous system activity and in central nervous system activity for each emotion; and (c) the extent to which there might be universals in signals or in some of the physiological changes that occur. 3. There is retrieval of relevant memories, expectations, and methods for coping with the emotion-provoking event. 4. Emotion involves a subjective experience, a feeling state, which may include awareness of some or all of these elements. For some theorists, this is the only essential element in emotion; for others, subjective experience is not essential. And some would argue that we may not always be aware of our emotional feelings when we are in the midst of an emotion. And here are the functions researchers agree on (though they may rank them differently): 1. Emotions have motivational properties, to the extent to which people seek to maximize the experience of positive emotions and to minimze the experience of negative emotions. 2. Emotions organize behavioral and physiological patterns to deal with emotion-evoking events, interrupting less important ongoing activities. At high-intensity levels, emotions may disorganize behavior and planning.


From Shweder (1994): Each [emotion] story combines within a single plot some concept of the conditions of the world and one's relationship to it (e.g., loss, frustration, transgression) that would make this or that somatic and/or affective experience (e.g., tension, tiredness, emptiness, headaches) accurate, valid, or justified, as well as some concept of the missions (e.g., to hide, to confess, to attack, to protect) motivated by a perceptive body. These 'stories' or 'scripts' or narratives' are not the kinds of things that are exclusive property of those who have books or narrate tales to one another on special occasions. They are instead the script-like or story-like interpretive schemes that organize lived experience...The narratives or scripts are implicit in the feelings they give shape and meaning to, and it is for us, as students of the emotions, to spell them out. (Shwder 1994: 38)


See Bedford (1962) who claims that emotions have nothing to do with feelings/sensations/psychological facts, but are linguistic ploys for imputing responsibility and blame and for praising and criticizing conduct. See Levy (1984b): One of the significant functions of feelings may be to serve as a feedback system at the level of individual consciousness so that one can be alert to one's standing in the world. See Shaver et al (1987) about clusters of emotions. See Marchitelli and Levenson (1992) about how emotion talk during an interaction can provide continuous information about how an emotion is experienced over time. See Rosenberg and Ekman (1994) about how retrospective self-reports are vulnerable to recency

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disorganize behavior and planning. 3. Emotional signals inform others, which is crucial, not only in infancy but throughout life in social interactions. 4. One's emotional experience affects one's wellbeing and may have implications for one's physical health.

retrospective self-reports are vulnerable to recency effects (see also Ptacek, Smith, Espe, and Raffety 1994). For statistical procedures for assessing taxonicity see Meehl (1992). See Shweder (1992) and Mason and Patwardhan (1970) about medieval Hindu Sanskrit writings and commentaries on drama/aesthetics and symbolic theories of emotion. (Sixth chapter of the Natyasastra, the "Rasadhyaya", explicated by Abhivanagupta.)


Shweder (1994) suggests that emotion is an "essentially contested concept". "Everything from their substance to their distribution to their logical form is a subject of debate" (Shweder 1994: 33).

Ekman uses a nine-point scale for intensity, anchored with "No feeling of that emotion" and "most intense "Defining or delimiting 'emotion' is itself a cultural experience of that emotion they have ever had". They activity. The term itself has a rich social life" (Wilce ask this after they get a free response. 2010: 19). · Davidson et al 1990, Ekman et al 1990, Levenson et al 1990. Are emotions "natural objects" like plants and · See page 428 for more details on subjective animals, "whose essence can only be known by rating procedures. finding them in time and space, inspecting them, and · Gottman and Levenson (1985) uses joysticks for intercorrelating their perceptible properties" or are viewing and recording negative/positive they--as Shweder believes--"unlike tigers and elm emotion. Rosenberg and Ekman stop tapes trees, which exist in the world as perceptible kinds when people remember having felt emotions. that one can directly point at and inspect, the 'emotions,' it is claimed, are transcendent 'narratives' or 'scripts' and the biochemical states, social events, expressive signals, phenomenological reports, action tendencies, and judgments that we associate with 'emotions' as symptoms or indexes are not unified in the same way as are such clusters of natural object attributes as stripes, fur, sharp nails, whiskers, and a capacity to deliver a dangerous bite" (Shweder 1994: 34-35). Ekman (1994) has seven characteristics of emotion that are present for all plus one other optional one: 1. Automatic appraisal 2. Commonalities in antecedent events 3. Presence in other primates 4. Quick onset 5. Brief duration 6. Unbidden occurrence 7. Distinctive physiology 8. A distinctive (universal) signal (not present for all basic emotions) These are the characteristics that differentiate emotions from other things and they let us respond to life quickly, without much planning, and in ways that have been adaptive through the evolutionary past. Ekman also floats out the possibility that each emotion may need its own separate theory to capture

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emotion may need its own separate theory to capture its uniqueness (1994: 19).

Moods etc

What do you do with affective style, temperament, sentiments, emotional traits, personality dispositions, moods, and emotions? Some theorists distinguish moods and emotions by saying that emotions are intentional--they have objects (Frijda 1994, in particular). "Nonconscious cognition must always have a referent; it is always about something. In contrast, nonconscious emotion can be freefloating and 'spill over' from one stimulus to another" (Davidson and Ekman 1994: 298 summarizing Zajonc). For Ekman and Panksepp, moods alter the threshold for eliciting emotions. Emotions, in turn, can facilitate the development of particular moods. Panksepp suggests that maybe high arousal of an emotion system will inhibit other emotions from occurring at the same time, but moods with lower arousal can allow a panoply of moods to be experienced. "Mood, by at least some commentators' definitions, is likely to persist into the task period and thus influence the information-processing measures more than the emotion would" (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 418). · For Davidson, emotions bias action, while moods bias cognition. Frijda's action readiness stuff is consistent with this (Davidson and Ekman 1994: 95).

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:40 PM


"I am convinced from the research I and others have done on facial expression that no other facial signals will be found that differentiate among these positive emotions [amusement, contentment, excitement, pride in achievement, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, relief--which share a particular kind of smile in common]" (Ekman 1994: 18).

Definitions and examples

"If it is hypothesized that loss is a universal antecedent of sadness, pictures and words could be presented following a sadness induction, with the subjects asked to perform a lexical decision task (for the pictures, the task would be to specify whether a picture could be named by a word). Stimuli that included loss themes could be interspersed with other irrelevant stimuli. The basic prediction in this type of study is that reaction time would be faster to the loss Intrapersonal relationships themes following a sadness induction compared with From Ekman and Davidson (1994: 139): the induction of another emotion" (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 420). Levenson briefly describes the interpersonal · "Lazarus offers a very interesting history of how functions of emotion, as does Frijda, Scherer, psychologists have typically avoided individual and Clark and Watson. All note that emotional differences and focused instead on general laws. expressions serve to inform others about the His distinction between intraindividual expressers' intentions and motives, and function differences, how a particular individual's to motivate various actions on the part of the emotional responses vary, and interindividual perceiver. Levenson also mentions that differences, variation across individuals in their emotions influence tendencies to approach and emotional responses, is very useful." (Ekman avoid various persons. and Davidson 1994: 342) While interpersonal functions have generally been given short shrift in comparison to intrapersonal functions, we must note that the intrapersonal functions considered mostly dealt with interpersonal events. All the contributors believe that emotions are brought into play most often by the actions of others, and, once aroused, emotions influence the course of interpersonal transactions.

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"Basic" emotions

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:37 PM


For Ekman (1994), "all emotions are basic". He finds pan-cultural facial expressions for: Anger Fear Sadness Enjoyment Disgust Maybe surprise Maybe contempt Maybe shame/guilt (See Ekman 1989 for a review, Russell 1994 for counterclaims and Ekman 1994 and Izard 1994 for replies to that.) Dimensional approaches are not incompatible with "basic emotion" approaches. What sort of dimensions seem relevant? An intensity dimension can distinguish variations in the strengt of anger episodes, fear episodes, etc. Perhaps also some emotions have a more narrow range of intensity variations than others...The pleasant-unpleasant dimension can describe differences within each group of emotions, although that is less certain. Is anger always more unpleasant than fear? The pleasant-unpleasant dimension should not, however, be used to distinguish different instances of the same emotion. [Use intensity instead]...An approach-avoid dimension can also be used to describe different instances of the same emotion (e.g., anger involving approach versus anger involving avoidance), as well as to distinguish among emotions (anger usually involves approach and disgust usually involves avoidance). An active-passive dimension can distinguish among different instances of the same discrete emotion, or among emotions (e.g., there is typically more activity in anger than in sadness). (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 413 summarizing findings about dimensions)

Action readiness

Ekman (1994: 17) doesn't believe that action readiness (or emotion-specific ANS activity) makes sense as a sine qua non for defining emotion. That is, it is clearly false to say that happy emotions involve approach and negative emotions involve withdrawal. So is the counter-evidence all just socially learned stuff? If so, maybe electromyographic studies would show the beginning of a tendency before a different action is taken. · "Clore challenges the idea that emotions involve action tendencies. Instead he proposes that emotions change our motivations, and what goals we seek rather [than] the behaviors in which we might be impelled to engage. Fear thus involves, for Clore, an attempt to avoid harm, but he suggests that how one avoids harm would vary with the threat and is not best captured by the idea of an action readiness to flee. Frijda allows for more than one fear response, but proposes a limited, distinctive set of action readiness changes for each emotion. Scherer also endorses the notion of 'phylogenetically preprogrammed action tendencies' for each emotion. Levenson's account that emotions prepare us to engage in actions that have had survival value implies also that there are distinctive, innate action tendencies for each (or most) emotions" (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 137). · Averrill suggests that "each emotion much be analyzed in its own right to determine its functions, and those functions will depend on the aspect of the emotion being considered. Averill argues that the functions of an emotion depend on short- or long-term consequences, and whether the reference point is the individual, the species, or society" (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 138).

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Attention and automaticity

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:27 PM


It is, of course, more the appraisal than the stimulus event that is crucial to understanding which emotion occurs when. (Wide agreement of researchers on this point, see Ekman and Davidson 1994: 176).

The brain

"As Panksepp has succinctly put it, 'cortico-cognitive processes' are not essential for emotion. LeDoux's discussion of the connections between the thalamus and botht he amygdala and the cortex allows him to provide a neuroanatomical explanation of why 'representations that activate the emotional system We don't really decide to have emotions. can be based on incomplete and fragmented "An automatic involuntary aspect is present in the experience of all emotion" (Stein & Trabasso information rather than veridical perceptions...[and why]...we are not always aware of why we respond 1992). emotionally the way we do.'" (Davidson and Ekman There must be an appraiser mechanism which 1994: 232) selectively attends to those stimuli (external or "Bower describes several different influences of internal) which are the occasion for...[one or emotion on memory. One influence is mediated another emotion]. Since the interval between stimulus and emotional response is something through the effects of emotion on attention. We extraordinarily short, the appraisal mechanism attend more to emotionally salient stimuli and this must be capable of operating with great speed. increased attention in turn enhances our later memory for the event that was attended to...Bower Often the appraisal is not only quick but it happens without awareness, so I must postulate suggests that one function of emotion is to signal the that the appraisal mechanism is able to operate cognitive system about important discrepancies that automatically. It must be constructed so that it are to be reduced by further learning. Another way in which emotion influences memory is through the quickly attends to some stimuli, determining process of recycling and rehearsal. A strong affective not only that they pertain to emotion, but to reaction to an even will produce a 'mulling over' of a which emotion...Appraisal is not always automatic. Sometimes the evaluation of what is trace of the event in working memory. This will happening is slow, deliberate and conscious. enhance subsequent memory for the event. Bower is With such a more extended appraisal there may careful to note that emotion will not enhance memory be some automatic arousal, but perhaps not of a for all details of an arousing scene but may act quite selectively [enhancing central/focal components at kind which is differentiated. The person could be said to be aroused or alerted, but no specific expense of peripheral details, perhaps]" (Davidson and Ekman 1994: 316). emotion is operative. Cognition plays the There are some other influences--mood important role in determining what will congruity is where people attend to stimuli that transpire. During such extended appraisal the are congruent with their current emotional evaluation may match to the selective filters of the automatic appraiser...It need not be, state. however; the experience may be diffuse rather There's also emotion-state dependent than specific to one emotion. (Ekman 1977: memory, where you can only retrieve the 58-59 cited in Ekman 1994: 15-16) memory if you are in a similar emotional state to when the original learning happened. (This is a bit shaky, though there seem to be at least some Here is a quote from Tooby and Cosmides that we conditions where it is reliable.) could reinterpret out of evolutionary concerns and into practice theory types of concerns. This reimages "the past" from the species' past and to the References individual's past. See Ohman (1986) about an automatic appraiser has amplification and detailing through social learning. The ancestrally recurrent structured situation that the organism categorizes itself as being in is

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that the organism categorizes itself as being in is the 'meaning' of the situation for that organism. It 'sees,' i.e., is organized to respond to, previous fitness contingencies, not present ones...Emotions...lead organisms to act as if certain things were true about the present circumstances whether or not they are because they were true of past circumstances...In this lies their strength and their weakness...[The automatic appraisal] cannot detect when the invariances that held true ancestrally no longer obtain. (Tooby & Cosmides 1990: 418-419 cited in Ekman 1994: 16-17)

It's quite easy to get researchers to agree that emotional experience focuses our attention (e.g., Clore, a cognitive psychologist and LeDoux, a neuroscientist). It's going beyond this that's difficult. Is the information processing unconscious? "When emotions occur automatically, the people experiencing the emotion cannot tell us about their appraisal process. They can only tell us how they account for their emotional behavior. Important as such accounts are, their import is to tell us how people describe the processes that occur during and after an emotion episode, not the processes that precede and lead to the emotion" (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 421). "Linguistic anticipatory schemata offer guidelines as to what are normally expected in language behavior. For example, if we assume that a syntactic question requires a rising intonation, a question with a falling intonation represents a divergence, with implications for emotive meaning. Contextual anticipatory schemata refer to expected global and situational assumptions. For example, if parents usually call their children by their first name (e.g., Johnny, stop that!), when a parent does not (John James Smith, stop that!), this generates notice. In such a case, some emotional motivations are presumed. Contextual anticipatory schemata handle cases where there are expectations about types or successions of verbal and/or nonverbal activities that are likely to occur in particular stretches of discourse. For example, against a background of formal speech, informal speech demonstrates a contrast, and therefore an emotive reading is expected" (Maynard 2002: 27 summarizing stuff from Caffi and Janey 1994a, 1994b). "Contributors differ in their account of how emotion influences cognition. According to Levenson, emotion short-circuits cognitive processing. Clark and Watson

For doubts about whether surprise is an emotion see Ekman (1992). Korsakoff would meet amnesiac patients with a thumbtack in his palm and shake their hand. The next day, they wouldn't remember him but they would refuse to shake or grimace when shaking. "In modern terminology, we would say that the patients had an affective implicit memory of the unpleasant handshake. However, because of their severe amnesia, they were incapable of explicitly encoding the identity of the doctor and so exhibited the peculiar dissociation between explicit and implicit recognition" (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 424-425).


Shweder thinks of salience in terms of frequency of use, ease of recall, which aren't predictable from formal/structural levels in a taxonomy. "Instead, the most salient 'objects' are the ones that are concrete and visual...Salience seems to measure perceptibility...It might follow that psychological states (e.g., pain, happiness, embarrassment) for which there are perceptible facial icons (a grimace, a smile) or visible signs (e.g., blushing) might be more salient than others" (Shweder 1994: 36).

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short-circuits cognitive processing. Clark and Watson propose a dual cognitive-emotional system, with both the automatic phylogenetically adaptive responses that Levenson is concerned with, and a more elaborated information gathering and evaluating process in which emotions increase our need to gather more information and focus our attention. Their position is very similar to Scherer's view." (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 137) "Clore says that our feelings provide us with information. We use our awareness of our feelings to make evaluative judgments and decisions, based on how we feel. Frijda takes a similar position. Clore additionally proposes that for feelings to be functional in providing information we must be aware of those feelings. This seems to contradict Levenson's position and to some extent Clark and Watson's description of how emotions function to prepare the organism to respond without needing to cognitively evaluate every situation. Insofar as the antecedents of mood are more diffuse and less object focused than emotions, Clore suggests that they may have different functional consequences for cognition." (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 137-138) "Ekman challenges Lazarus, Scherer, and Ellsworth, proposing that the appraisals that occur automatically happen so quickly that it is unlikely that people can report on what occurred. Ekman views the proposals of Lazarus, Scherer, and Ellsworth as accounts not of appraisal as it actually occurs, but how people subsequently explain and account for the emotions they have." (Ekman and Davidson 1994: 177)

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