Emotion, Stress, and Coping for AP Psychology
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Theories of Emotion
An emotion is a conscious feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness accompanied by biological activation and expressive behavior; emotion has cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components. Two dimensions of emotion are arousal or intensity and valence or positive/negative quality. The greater the arousal, the more intense the emotion. Fear, anger, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust are examples of emotions. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that emotions persist because of their adaptive value. Fear of people and other animals displaying angry faces, for example, caused humans to focus attention and energize action to protect themselves in ways that enabled the species to survive. Facial expressions seem to be inborn and universal across all cultures. Many areas in the brain, many neurotransmitter systems, the autonomic nervous system, and the endocrine system are tied to emotions. The amygdala, which is part of the limbic system, influences aggression and fear, and interacts with the hypothalamus, which sets emotional states, such as rage. The limbic system has pathways to and from the cerebral cortex, especially the frontal lobes, which are involved in control and interpretation of emotions. The left hemisphere is more closely associated with positive emotions, and the right with negative emotions. Emotions are inferred from nonverbal expressive behaviors, including body language, vocal qualities, and, most importantly, facial expressions. Paul Ekman and others found at least six basic facial expressions are universally recognized by people in diverse cultures all over the world.
Cultures differ in norms for regulating emotional expression. For example, the Japanese, who value interdependence, promote more restraint in expression of emotions than other more individualistic cultures.
Psychologists agree that emotions associated with feelings (e.g., love, hate, fear) have physiological, behavioral, and cognitive components, but disagree as to how the three components interact to produce feelings and actions. No one theory seems sufficient to explain emotion, but each appears to contribute to an explanation.
American psychologist William James, a founder of the school of functionalism, and Danish physiologist Karl Lange proposed that our awareness of our physiological arousal leads to our conscious experience of emotion. According to this theory, external stimuli activate our autonomic nervous systems, producing specific patterns of physiological changes for different emotions that evoke specific emotional experiences. When we see a vicious looking dog growl at us, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, we begin to run immediately, and then we become aware that we are afraid. This theory suggests that we can change our feelings by changing our behavior.
The James-Lange theory is consistent with the current facial-feedback hypothesis that our facial expressions affect our emotional experiences. Smiling seems to induce positive moods and frowning seems to induce negative moods.
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