Situational Emotions and Emotional States
Emotions, affective physiological states that stem from a subjective analysis of different stimulus encountered, prospective or environmental.
Emotions are a range of affective physiological states that stem from a subjective analysis of different stimulus encountered, prospective or environmental. For example, the stimulus could be entering the exam room, experiencing an emotion (eg fear or anxiety) which is then followed by a behavioural response (leave the room), physiological response (start to sweat), a cognitive response (Balance out the pros and cons) and the subjective experience (being afraid). Emotional situations arouse two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS); the Sympathetic System (fight or flight) and the Parasympathetic System (rest and digest). Both divisions of the system work in tandem to maintain an equilibrium and the effects in each are generally contrary to each other. Without consciousness, the body’s response to danger is coordinated and adaptive.
The James-Lange theory of emotion challenged the common-sense notion that emotions cause action. Instead, it suggests that emotion-inducing stimuli are interpreted, triggering changes in internal organs which trigger the experience of emotion. The theory makes two important predictions; that a weak autonomic system will feel less emotion and promoting a skeletal response will enhance emotion. There is limited evidence for each prediction, however the rare condition of Pure Autonomic failure is when the output from the ANS partially or completely fails. The organs function independently, for example stress does not increase one’s heartbeat. Heartbeat still increases, but the arbiter is not the experience of stress. Research has shown that those suffering from pure autonomic failure are still able to feel the same range of emotions as other people and are as good as the control group in predicting suitable emotions in response to hypothetical scenarios, but emotions are not felt as intensely. However, research with patients paralysed from the neck down have reported feeling some emotions more intensely. Research has also studied whether or not physiological action can be engineered, assessing if spontaneous smiles prompted feelings of happiness. Participants held a pen between their lips (preventing smiling) and between their teeth (promoting smiling) while their reactions towards cartoons was measured. Participants reported more intense feelings of humour under the smile-facilitating condition. It should be noted that facial expressions only impacted affective vs cognitive aspects of humour responses. While there is support for James-Lange theory, most researchers agree that emotions also involve a cognitive element.
The Canon-Bard Theory (1927) suggests that emotional stimuli have two independent excitatory effects working simultaneously; the expression of emotion and the feeling of emotion. In other words, emotions and bodily changes lack the cause-and-effect relationship as suggested by James & Lange. The simultaneous response of the ANS and emotion provides an explanation as to how and why different emotions have similar physiological responses (positive and negative) and yet we are able to distinguish between them. This suggests that there must be some cognitive arbiter. Darwin was the first to study the expression of emotions across species, finding that responses were consistent between members of a species across cultures, for example universal facial expressions, creating the universality hypothesis.
Building on Darwin’s universality hypothesis, Ekman (1973), identified 6 basic emotions; happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear and surprise. Secondary emotions covered all other emotions that were a product of these basic 6, for example shame is a response to sadness. Ekman collected cross cultural data of emotional recognition via stories and found that people from different cultures are able to reliably recognise emotions. This is true of cross cultural images as much as own culture (Fridlund (1992). Expressions developed as a communication tool, but how to tell real from fake?
Duchenne (1862) studied expressions of an elderly subject with facial anaesthesia. Using mild currents, he stimulated various muscles to recreate expressions. He claimed that real vs fake smiles could be distinguished via reflexes in two areas; the orbicularis oculi muscle (lifting the cheeks, allowing crow’s feet to form) and, the zygomatic major muscle (lifting the corners of the mouth). According to Duchenne, stimulation of these muscles cannot be faked. Botox paralyses muscular feedback and an fMRI study showed that paralysis of frown muscles significantly decreases amygdala and brainstem activation during imitation of angry expressions, suggesting that facial feedback modulates neural processing of content.
The hypothalamus controls ANS activation to determine fight or flight. The sympathetic branch increases heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and sweat secretion. The pituitary gland interacts with the hypothalamus to influence stress hormone release into the bloodstream, for example adrenaline and cortisol. This occurs in response to threatening stimulus. The amygdala plays a key role in the early detection of emotional stimulus and significance. Research using monkeys linked lesions in this area to reduced fear response, indiscriminate eating and interspecies sex, suggesting that the amygdala plays a role in fear and disgust. When the amygdala is damaged in humans, research has shown impaired ability to recognise fearful/angry faces and voices, rate unfamiliar faces as untrustworthy and impaired ability to identify scary music (ie cannot recognise the emotion the music is trying to convey). Studies have been carried out using neuroimaging, showing increased amygdala activity to fearful vs neutral stimulus and the appearance of phobia-related stimulus. According to Pessoa (2011) the amygdala contains receptors for many neurotransmitters and hormones and is involved in determining what a stimulus is and how we should react to it. Patient SM had a reduced amygdala region and was unable to feel fear. She could understand it (ie identify something others might find fearful) but could not feel it subjectively. This is known as Urbach-Wiethe disease, a very rare recessive genetic disorder resulting in impaired ability to subjectively feel fear which is linked to degeneration of the amygdala.
The orbitofrontal area and cingulate cortex are linked to the cognitive aspects of emotion, the restraint and appraisal aspects of emotion (learning to “bite your tongue” in some situations). Phineas Gage is a famous case involving damage to the frontal cortex. fMRI methods are used to study this using suppression paradigm (inhibit emotional response to stimuli) and the Re-appraisal paradigm (asked to reinterpret the image to change initial reaction). These regions are active as well as the amygdala during both tasks, suggesting interaction.
With regards to lateralisation, there has been some suggestion that the left hemisphere might be more active for an emotion that its right hemisphere counterpart, but it would be crude to generalise this dichotomy.