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What Is Emotion?

What Is Emotion?

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    What Is Emotion?
    Book Description:

    In this sophisticated overview of human emotions, a widely respected psychologist and author addresses the ambiguities and embraces the controversies that surround this intriguing subject. An insightful and lucid thinker, Jerome Kagan examines what exactly we do know about emotions, which popular assumptions about emotions are incorrect, and how scientific study must proceed if we are to uncover the answers to persistent and evasive questions about emotions.

    Integrating the findings of anthropological, psychological, and biological studies in his wide-ranging discussion, Kagan explores the evidence for great variation in the frequency and intensity of emotion among different cultures. He also discusses variations among individuals within the same culture and the influences of gender, class, ethnicity, and temperament on a person's emotional patina. In his closing chapter, the author proposes that three sources of evidence-verbal descriptions of feelings, behaviors, and measures of brain states-provide legitimate but different definitions of emotion. Translating data from one of these sources to another may not be possible, Kagan warns, and those who study emotions must accept-at least for now-that their understanding is limited to and by the domain of their information.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17787-9
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ONE What Are Emotions?
    (pp. 1-54)

    Bertrand Russell once noted that scientists who thought they were studying a simple phenomenon eventually recognized that their original question, say, “Why is the sky blue?” was far more complicated than they had imagined. Although some might regard the queries “What is an emotion?” and “How can we know if a person is experiencing one?” as equally simple, the answers offered are riddled with ambiguity and do not enjoy the more consensual, transparent meanings of such concepts as velocity and heat. Most ancient writers anticipated little controversy when, after consulting intuitions that grew out of personal experiences, they defined an...

  6. TWO Classifying Human Emotions
    (pp. 55-110)

    The conditions able to provoke a feeling that invites an appraisal are too numerous to list. The most frequent incentives are the anticipation or realization of physical harm, blocking of a goal-directed action, coercive command, or threat to a cherished belief; the loss of property, relationship, or status; lack of food, water, or warmth; violation of a moral standard by self or another; witnessing distress in another; learning that a desirable or undesirable experience has occurred to a target of identification; investing sustained effort in order to obtain a goal; attaining a goal after sustained effort; and, of course, sweet...

  7. THREE Language and Emotions
    (pp. 111-141)

    Many contemporary scientists parse the emotions with abstract semantic concepts, such as “fear,” “sad,” “angry,” and “joy,” that contain little or no information on the brain state, origin, target, expectedness, or consequences for self or others of the underlying feeling. These words resemble the abstract concept “locomote” rather than the more concrete termswalk, run, jog, hop, saunter, burrow, swim, fly,andslither,which contain some clue as to the species and the speed and form of the motion. Humans invent words to name both events perceived and ideas that can organize the plethora of similar perceptual schemata into a...

  8. FOUR Variation in Emotional Experience
    (pp. 142-189)

    Individuals vary in the frequency and salience of the emotions most often provoked in their society. Two critical but very different determinants of this variation are the social categories individuals accept as self-defining and their temperamental biases. The social categories influence the appraisals imposed on feelings and, therefore, the susceptibility to particular emotions. Temperaments affect a person’s vulnerability to specific feeling states. I deal first with the effects of social categories.

    The categories of gender, ethnicity, social class, nationality, religion, and stage of life are acquired by adolescence. Most individuals regard the first two as fixed and the latter four...

  9. FIVE A Pair of Problems
    (pp. 190-216)

    Two final issues require our attention. The first deals with the relations among the three sources of evidence for an emotion and the degree to which they reflect the same or very similar processes and have the same theoretical meaning. If this were true, the varied sources of information could be combined. The technical name for this theoretical equivalence iscommensurability. The physical concepts “mass” and “energy” are commensurable because scientists know how to translate the mass of an atom or log into the energy it can create. The commensurability of brain activity, behaviors, and verbal reports for emotions is...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 217-252)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 253-271)