Who Invented Emotions?
Part 2 of 3 sted: love v. hate, joy v. sadness, trust v. disgust, and anticipation v. surprise. Twenty-first-century researchers have since brought the number back down to four: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, angry/disgusted.
This way of thinking assumes that emotions are a psychological category. Before the nineteenth century, bodily sensations were considered transcendental, utilitarian, dangerous, or virtuous. Chinese philosophers called affective states qing, the essence of one’s inner being and the motivator of one’s outer commitment to society. The Stoics saw them as unruly, disruptive passions that had to be controlled by the rational mind. Medieval theologians separated them into positive and negative and interpreted them as indications of a person’s morality. Eighteenth-century theorists continued to divide them into positive and negative: vain and violent passions/appetites versus benevolent and kind affections and sentiments.
You could say, as emotions scholar Thomas Dixon does, that one man invented emotions as a psychological category: the nineteenth-century Scottish Professor of philosophy Thomas Brown. (Not to be confused with Sir Thomas Browne, the physician who authored Religio Medici.) Although others played a part, notably philosopher David Hume and theologian and minister Thomas Chalmers, Brown took the word emotion (a translation of the French émotion, meaning a disturbance of one’s physical state) and used it as an umbrella term to indicate all passions, appetites, affections, and sentiments. Brown died young, at forty-two, in 1820. Best known for his Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind, he was devoted to his work, never marrying or having children.
Others followed, contributing to our understanding of the category called emotion. The nineteenth-century ushered in an emphasis on the face as the loci for emotion. In 1824, the Scottish surgeon and neurologist Charles Bell (#BellsPalsy is named for him) published Essays on The Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression, in which he examined the expressive role of facial muscles. In 1862, the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne used “electrotherapy” to treat muscular disorders. In the process, he tried to connect facial expressions to their corresponding emotions, publishing his results in Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine. In the 1872 illustrated The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin argued that certain universal emotions exist in humans and even animals: anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness, and sadness. But they serve no evolutionary purpose. They don’t, for instance, help us communicate (Is she smiling because she’s happy, fearful, anxious?) or survive (What good is an appeasing smile when running from a lion?).
The 1880s and 1890s brought theoretical arguments as to how, when, and why emotions occur. The James-Lange theory, as it’s known (William James and Charles Lange actually came up with separate theories that have since been conflated), states that emotions come as a result of bodily sensations. (Hence, the smile-and-you’ll-be-happy self-help adage.) Harvard physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon and his doctoral student Phillip Bard came up with the Cannon-Bard theory, which claimed that we experience the stimulating event or situation and the corresponding emotional response simultaneously.
Flash forward to the mid-twentieth century, when the study of emotion had its heyday. The 1960s brought psychologists Richard Lazarus, Stanley Schachter, and Jerome Singer, who focused on the #Relationships between thought and emotion. Paul Ekman argued that emotions aren’t universal but dependent on culture.
The 1990s was, according to President George Bush Senior, “the Decade of the Brain.” It was a time of very expensive research studies, many trying to prove that emotions and the #MentalHealth diagnoses associated with them are located entirely in the brain. The neurobiology of emotion tended to examine so-called negative emotions (e.g., fear, #Anxiety ), speaking of them in terms of brain processes, neural pathways, synaptic transmission, and neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Despite lots of pretty MRI scans, none of what was theorized was proven. Emotions were and are still conceptual.
The Male Gaze
Much of our understanding of emotions comes from men. One of the few exceptions is Magda B. Arnold. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that she was a woman, Arnold was undervalued and unappreciated—and still is. In the 1960s, she was the first to propose a complete theory of emotion.
Whereas others focused narrowly on an aspect or two, Arnold examined t