Historical Overview

William James, writing in the middle of the 19th century, made the somewhat counterintuitive claim that the subjective experience, or feeling, of emotion is caused by and follows the bodily changes of emotion. Thus, for example, one sees an angry animal approaching quickly, and one's gut tenses, one's heartbeat rises, and one's hair stands on end, all before one feels afraid. In fact, James argued, we depend on these physiological changes in order to have a feeling of an emotion.

Charles Darwin focused on emotional expressions and described similarities between human emotional expressions, such as smiles and frowns, and nonhuman animal reactions to positive and negative situations. These similarities supported his claim that human emotional expressions were innate and had evolved from once-adaptive muscle movements. Darwin also emphasized the social communicative function of emotional expressions—for example, between mother and infant or between fighting conspecifics.

These historical viewpoints have counterparts in our commonsense, or folk-psychological, concepts of emotion: Important components of emotion include observable expressions of emotion and perceptions of our own feelings, both of which follow the perception and evaluation of an emotionally salient stimulus. These components are also important in most modern theories of emotion, which share the view that emotions are adaptations sculpted by evolution, and that emotions in humans are on a continuum with emotions in animals.



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