As human beings, we have all experienced a range of emotions from happiness, sadness, love, hate, to indifference along with many other emotions.  Hopefully, the information in this writeup will help explain not only where these emotions start but what causes them and how the brain deals with them.

There are three basic components of emotions:


The physical component of emotion is a psychological arousal that usually accompanies the emotion the body is feeling.  If the body did not experience this arousal, the intensity of this emotion would be greatly decreased.  During the arousal, the body experiences a surge of powerful feelings known as emotions.  People who can detect changes in their arousal level experience their emotions much more intensely than those who cannot detect the changes in their arousal level.


The cognitive component is how we interpret certain situations or stimulations.  This determines which emotion our body will feel.  For example; if you are alone, sitting in the dark, watching a scary movie, and you hear a loud noise, you may become scared... fearing that there is an immediate threat or that you are in danger.  This emotional response to this imaginary threat is just as powerful as it would be to a real threat.  Our perception to the imaginary threat is what makes it feel real to us and causes the emotion in our body.


This component has been called the outward expression of our emotions.  Body gestures, posture, facial expressions, and our tone of voice display what emotions we are feeling.  Many of our facial expressions are universal.  For instance, if somebody has a mad look on their face, it doesn't matter what language they speak or where they are from, chances are... they're mad.  However, some emotional expressions are influenced by our cultures and society's rules for displaying emotions.  For example, the guards outside of Buckingham Palace are not allowed to display any emotion on their face.  Some people have described them as looking mad when in reality they are not.

It is believed that love is one of the strongest emotions we may experience.  There are different forms of love.  Each form of love is experienced as a deep affection.  People often use the term "love" to describe things that they are fond of such as, "I love my car", or "I love my computer".  However, there is also love that a parent has for a child, love for our friends, and love of our country, just to name a few.

Romantic love is believed to be one of the most heartfelt and strong emotions we may experience.  This is a very intense emotion we feel for another person and is usually coupled with sexual arousal and a longing to be with that person.  However, if the passion fades away, many couples find that they do not have very much in common or differing backgrounds.  They may also find that their attitudes, interests, and values clash with one another.  The good news is... there is more to love than just passion.  Even though passion is very important, it is usually one of the three parts that make up a good relationship.

Robert Sternberg's theory of love teaches us that there are three components to love.  His triangular theory of love has three components.  They are; passion, commitment and intimacy.  Sternberg describes the three components as:

  • Intimacy is the feelings in a relationship that promote closeness, bonding, and connecting with one another.
  • Passion is what drives the romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation in a loving relationship.
  • Commitment consists of two parts.  The first is a short-term aspect in which you make the decision that you love another person and the second part is the long-term aspect in which you decide to commit to a long-term relationship and maintaining the love for that person over a long period of time.

Expressing our emotions is as natural to humans as breathing.  We do not have to be taught how to smile or express fear or display sadness. 

One may ask, how many emotions are there?  The answer to that depends on the person's culture, the language they speak and other factors.  One thing that is certain, in all walks of life; there are basic emotions that are universal.  These emotions are sadness, distress, joy, surprise, disgust, happiness, anger, and fear.  These basic emotions have been found in all cultures throughout the world.

The Brain's Role in Emotion

The right hemisphere is the most active in recognizing and expressing the emotions we are feeling.  It also responds to emotions being conveyed by another person's body language or tone of voice.  For example, an employer sarcastically says to an employee who comes to work late, "Glad to see you could make it today".  If the employee had damage to his right hemisphere, he may only understand the words and not the sarcastic undertones, whereas a person whose right hemisphere is functioning normally, would usually have a sarcastic response.

The right hemisphere helps in our expression through our tone of voice and by controlling our facial expression.  Since the right hemisphere controls the left side of the face, the left side usually portrays stronger emotion than the right side of the face.  Research continues to accumulate information showing the mechanisms in the brain responsible for negative emotions reside in the right hemisphere, while the left hemisphere is believed to control positive emotions.  Research has shown that patients who suffer from manic depression or major depression have decreased activity in the left prefrontal cortex where the positive emotions are produced.

Much of the frontal lobes consist of areas that are involved with motivation, thinking, positive emotion, impulse control, and other emotional responses.  Any damage that occurs to the frontal areas usually produces deficiencies in the ability to anticipate the results of our actions.


Theories of Emotions

  1. Theory of Conservation of Emotion:
    Emotion is neither created nor destroyed; it is simply converted from one form to another.
    Those who have fallen in love will find it easier to understand that this so-called love develops from subtler emotions, grows into an entity, and continues being the love that it is, or transforms into either hate or indifference.

  2. Emotional Theory of Inertia:
    An emotion at rest tends to stay at rest and an emotion in motion tends to stay in motion with the same rate and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force.
    This explains why a person coming from a recent break-up feels haunted by the last strong emotion he or she experienced. In the same way someone going through a prolonged period of pressure will tend to unconsciously long for that pressure simply becauseit has become a part of him. And she who lived a comfortable life will naturally always seek the comfortable life under unfavorable conditions, until she finally got used to the adversity around her.

  3. Emotional Theory of Acceleration:
    The acceleration or growth an emotion experiences is directly proportional to, and in the same direction as, the total effort applied to it. Obviously, the more effort there is to nurture an emotion, the faster the emotion grows.

  4. Emotional Theory of Interaction:
    For every emotional action, there is an equal and opposite emotional reaction. Thus for interest there is indifference, for like there is dislike, for fondness there is irritation, for pleasure there is pain, for courage there is fear, for delight there is abhorration, for bliss there is despair, and so on.

E*mo"tion (?), n. [L. emovere, emotum, to remove, shake, stir up; e out + movere to move: cf. F. 'emotion. See Move, and cf. Emmove.]

A moving of the mind or soul; excitement of the feelings, whether pleasing or painful; disturbance or agitation of mind caused by a specific exciting cause and manifested by some sensible effect on the body.

How different the emotions between departure and return! W. Irving.

Some vague emotion of delight. Tennyson.

Syn. -- Feeling; agitation; tremor; trepidation; perturbation; passion; excitement. -- Emotion, Feeling, Agitation. Feeling is the weaker term, and may be of the body or the mind. Emotion is of the mind alone, being the excited action of some inward susceptibility or feeling; as, an emotion of pity, terror, etc. Agitation may the bodily or mental, and usually arises in the latter case from a vehement struggle between contending desires or emotions. See Passion. "Agitations have but one character, viz., that of violence; emotions vary with the objects that awaken them. There are emotions either of tenderness or anger, either gentle or strong, either painful or pleasing."



© Webster 1913.

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