This is the final part in the What is emotion? series. In What is emotion? (part 1) – 4 Affective states we discussed the different affective states of emotion. In What is emotion? (part 2) – 3 Perspectives on Emotion we saw that in the last 100 years psychologists have offered a variety of definitions of emotion, each focusing on different manifestations or components of the emotion.
There seems to be no empirical solution to the debate on which manifestation is sufficient or necessary to define emotions. At present, the psychologists most favoured solution is to say that emotions are best treated as a multifaceted phenomenon consisting of several components (1, 2). These components, i.e. behavioural reactions, expressive reactions, physiological reactions and subjective feelings, are discussed below.
1. Behavioural reaction
Behavioural reaction (e.g. running, or seeking contact) is the action or behaviour one engages in when experiencing an emotion. Emotions initiate behaviour in the form of action tendencies such as approach, inaction, avoidance and attack (3). Fear makes one want to run; love makes one want to approach or caress, and so on. Frijda (4) proposed that actions like “crying out, mama! when faced by danger, uttering insults when being slighted, or constantly thinking of the other person when seriously in love,” are also examples of emotional action tendencies.
2. Expressive reaction
Expressive reaction (e.g. smiling or frowning) is the facial, vocal and postural expression that accompanies the emotion. Each emotion is associated with a particular pattern of expressions (5). For example, anger comes with a fixed stare, contracted eyebrows, compressed lips, vigorous and brisk movements and, usually, a raised voice, almost shouting (6, 7).
3. Physiological reaction
Physiological reaction (activation or arousal, e.g. increases in heart rate) is the change in activity in the autonomic nervous system which accompanies emotions. Emotions show a variety of physiological manifestations, such as pupil dilatation and sweat production.
4. Subjective feeling
Subjective feeling (e.g. feeling happy or feeling inspired) is the conscious awareness of the emotional state one is in, i.e. the subjective emotional experience. Each emotion involves a specific feeling which is a basic, irreducible kind of mental element (e.g. Titchener (8)). In his famous work, Frijda (9) states that “feelings form the core characteristic that differentiates affective from nonaffective experience.” Note that also in daily life, feeling is commonly seen as the essence of emotion (10).
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