Emotions: What a Mess! / Physiology, Supernatural Mental State, Words

This drives me “nuts” – emotions ARE physiological responses to the environment; and yet, psychologists (and other sinners) continue to conceive of emotions as “mental or psychological states” and “word objects” that exist somewhere “inside” humans, like colored jelly beans in jar, waiting to be “called on” by their “names”. Worse, other “scientists hah-hah” also continue to confuse “physiology” as arising from some abstract construct or supernatural domain (NT thingie) called emotion.

Physiological Changes Associated with Emotion


The most obvious signs of emotional arousal involve changes in the activity of the visceral motor (autonomic) system (see Chapter 21). Thus, increases or decreases in heart rate, cutaneous blood flow (blushing or turning pale), piloerection, sweating, and gastrointestinal motility can all accompany various emotions. These responses are brought about by changes in activity in the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric components of the visceral motor system, which govern smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, and glands throughout the body. (This is obviously real physical activity of the body, and not a magical, psychological or mental “state”) As discussed in Chapter 21, Walter Cannon argued that intense activity of the sympathetic division of the visceral motor system prepares the animal to fully utilize metabolic and other resources in challenging or threatening situations.

Honestly? I think in the above we have a working description of the ASD / Asperger “emotional” system: NO WORDS. So-called “emotions” are a SOCIALLY GENERATED SYSTEM that utilizes language to EXTERNALLY REGULATE human “reactivity” – that is, the child learns to IDENTIFY it’s physiological response with the vocabulary supplied to it by parents, teachers, other adults and by overhearing human conversation, in which it is immersed from birth.

Conversely, activity of the parasympathetic division (and the enteric division) promotes a building up of metabolic reserves. Cannon further suggested that the natural opposition of the expenditure and storage of resources is reflected in a parallel opposition of the emotions associated with these different physiological states. As Cannon pointed out, “The desire for food and drink, the relish of taking them, all the pleasures of the table are naught in the presence of anger or great anxiety.” (This is the physiological state that ASD / Asperger children “exist in” when having to negotiate the “world of social typicals” The social environment is confusing, frustrating, and alien. Asking us “how we feel” in such a circumstance will produce a “pure” physiological response: anxiety, fear, and the overwhelming desire to escape.)

Activation of the visceral motor system, particularly the sympathetic division, was long considered an all-or-nothing process. Once effective stimuli engaged the system, it was argued, a widespread discharge of all of its components ensued. More recent studies have shown that the responses of the autonomic nervous system are actually quite specific, with different patterns of activation characterizing different situations and their associated emotional states. (What is an emotional state? Emotion words are not emotions: they are language used to parse, identify and “name” the physiologic arousal AS SOCIETY  DICTATES TO BE ACCEPTABLE) Indeed, emotion-specific expressions produced voluntarily can elicit distinct patterns of autonomic activity. For example, if subjects are given muscle-by-muscle instructions that result in facial expressions recognizable as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or surprise without being told which emotion they are simulating, each pattern of facial muscle activity is accompanied by specific and reproducible differences in visceral motor activity (as measured by indices such as heart rate, skin conductance, and skin temperature). Moreover, autonomic responses are strongest when the facial expressions are judged to most closely resemble actual emotional expression and are often accompanied by the subjective experience of that emotion! One interpretation of these findings is that when voluntary facial expressions are produced, signals in the brain engage not only the motor cortex but also some of the circuits that produce emotional states. Perhaps this relationship helps explain how good actors can be so convincing. Nevertheless, we are quite adept at recognizing the difference between a contrived facial expression and the spontaneous smile that accompanies a pleasant emotional state. (Since modern humans are notoriously “gullible” to the false words, body language and manipulations of “con men” of all types, how can this claim be extended outside a controlled “experiment” in THE LAB? Having worked in advertising for 15 years, I can assure the reader that finding models and actors who could act, speak and use body language that was “fake but natural” was a constant challenge. In other words, what was needed was a person who could “fake” natural behavior. Fooling the consumer was the GOAL!)

This evidence, along with many other observations, indicates that one source of emotion is sensory drive from muscles and internal organs. This input forms the sensory limb of reflex circuitry that allows rapid physiological changes in response to altered conditions. However, physiological responses can also be elicited by complex and idiosyncratic stimuli mediated by the forebrain. For example, an anticipated tryst with a lover, a suspenseful episode in a novel or film, stirring patriotic or religious music, or dishonest accusations can all lead to autonomicactivation and strongly felt emotions. (Are these “events, anticipated or actualized”, not social constructs that are learned? Would any child grow up to “behave patriotically” if he or she had not been taught do this by immersion in the total social environment, which “indoctrinates” children in the “proper emotions” of the culture?) The neural activity evoked by such complex stimuli is relayed from the forebrain to autonomic and somatic motor nuclei via the hypothalamus and brainstem reticular formation, the major structures that coordinate the expression of emotional behavior (see next section). (Is exploitation of this “neural activity” not the “pathway” to training social humans to “obey” the social rules?) 

In summary, emotion and motor behavior are inextricably linked. (Why would any one think that they are not? Emotion is merely the language used to manipulate, interpret and communicate the physiology) As William James put it more than a century ago:

What kind of an emotion of fear would be left if the feeling neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible for me to think … I say that for us emotion dissociated from all bodily feeling is inconceivable.

William James, 1893 (Psychology: p. 379.)

NEXT: The representation of “emotions” as “thingies” that can be experienced and eaten! Are we to believe that 34,000 distinct “emotion objects” exist “in nature / in humans” or are these “inventions” of social language? 

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: What is it and How to Use it in Counseling?

Can you guess how many emotions a human can experience?

The answer might shock you – it’s around 34,000.

With so many, how can one navigate the turbulent waters of emotions, its different intensities, and compositions, without getting lost?

The answer – an emotion wheel.

Through years of studying emotions, Dr. Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and anticipation. (Pollack, 2016)

This means that, while it’s impossible to fully understand all 34,000 distinguishable emotions, (what is referred to is merely “vocabulary” that humans have come up with, and not emotion thingies that exist “somewhere” -) learning how to accurately identify how each of the primary emotions is expressed within you can be empowering. It’s especially useful for moments of intense feelings when the mind is unable to remain objective as it operates from its older compartments that deal with the fight or flight response. (Watkins, 2014) (This refers to the “pop-science” theory of the additive brain, (lizard, etc) which is utter fantasy) 

This article contains:

NEXT: Some Definitions of Emotions / Rather confusing, conflicting, unsatisfying, nonspecific descriptions: – indication that we’ve entered the supernatural realm of word concepts. Aye, yai, yai!

From introductory psychology texts

Sternberg, R. In Search of the Human Mind, 2nd Ed.Harcourt, Brace, 1998 p 542 “An emotion is a feeling comprising physiological and behavioral (and possibly cognitive) reactions to internal and external events.”

Nairne, J. S. Psychology: The Adaptive Mind. 2nd Ed. Wadsworth, 2000. p. 444 ” . . . an emotion is a complex psychological event that involves a mixture of reactions: (1) a physiological response (usually arousal), (2) an expressive reaction (distinctive facial expression, body posture, or vocalization), and (3) some kind of subjective experience (internal thoughts and feelings).”

From a book in which many researchers in the field of emotion discuss their views of some basic issues in the study of emotion. (Ekman, P., & Davidson, R. J. The Nature of Emotions: Fundamental Questions. Oxford, 1994)

Panksepp, Jaak p 86. .Compared to moods, “emotions reflect the intense arousal of brain systems that strongly encourage the organism to act impulsively.”

Clore, Jerald L p 184. “. . . emotion tems refer to internal mental states that are primarily focused on affect (where “affect” simply refers to the perceived goodness or badness of something). [see Clore & Ortony (1988) in V. Hamilton et al. Cognitive Science Perspectives on Emotion and Motivation. 367-398]

Clore, Jerald L p 285-6. “If there are necessary features of emotions, feeling is a good candidate. Of all the features that emotions have in common, feeling seems the least dispensable. It is perfectly reasonable to say about ones anger, for example,’I was angry, but I didn’t do anything,’ but it would be odd to say ‘I was angry, but I didn’t feel anything.’ ”

Ellsworth, Phoebe p 192. “. . . the process of emotion . . . is initiated when one’s attention is captured by some discrepancy or change. When this happens , one’s state is different, physiologically and psychologically, from what it was before. This might be called a “state of preparedness” for an emotion . . . The process almost always begins before the name [of the emotion is known] and almost always continues after it.

Averill, James R. p 265-6. “The concept of emotion . . . refer[s] to (1) emotional syndromes, (2) emotional states, and (3) emotional reactions. An emotional syndrome is what we mean when we speak of anger, grief, fear, love and so on in the abstract. . . . For example, the syndrome of anger both describes and prescribes what a person may (or should) do when angry. An emotional state is a relatively short term, reversible (episodic) disposition to respond in a manner representative of the corresponding emotional syndrome. . . . Finally, and emotional reaction is the actual (and highly variable) set of responses manifested by an individual when in an emotional state: . . . facial expressions, physiological changes, overt behavior and subjective experience.”

LeDoux, Joseph E. p 291. “In my view, “emotions” are affectively charged, sujectively experienced states of awareness.”



3 thoughts on “Emotions: What a Mess! / Physiology, Supernatural Mental State, Words

  1. I suspect that Normdom is not aware of physical reality, save – perhaps – in the abstract. It’s as if ‘social’ thinking so colors the entire perception of the socially-typical individual that more-or-less all such persons *can* conceive is ‘social reality’ – as in there *is* no such thing as objective truth or physical reality – as if each and every social-typical were, in truth, *floridly psychotic*.

    And *they* wonder why we seem so ‘irreligious’? More like, ‘we don’t do social the way you lot do, ’cause we can’t’!


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