Emotion & Motivation

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Session Overview

Image of a fearful face.

How are you feeling right now? What is the neural basis for the different types of emotions we feel throughout our lives? In this lecture, we will discuss the components of emotion, the ways in which we express emotion, and the parts of the brain that are in involved in emotional processing, regulation, and perception.

Keywords: emotions, amygdala, fear, arousal, facial feedback, fear conditioning, emotion and memory, disgust, insula, William James

Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature Neuroscience. Source: Susskind, J., et al. "Expressing Fear Enhances Sensory Acquisition." Nature Neuroscience 11, no. 7 (2008): 843–50. © 2008.

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Discussion: Emotion & Motivation

How would you define emotion? It's difficult to do without just naming emotions that come to mind: happiness, sadness, anger, etc. Despite how simple and familiar these examples seem to be, our definition of emotion is fairly complex… Read more »

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Long Answer Question

Describe the three theories of emotion. Give a specific example of the processes that would lead to an emotion under each theory.

Sample answer

The James-Lange theory of emotion states that the experience of an emotional state is the result of the physical arousal caused by a stimulus or experience. According to the James-Lange theory an event such as someone crossing a street and hearing a loud car horn from behind. That person's heart rate, respiratory rate, and amount of sweating will increase. This heightened physiological arousal will cause the brain to interpret this as a situation that should cause fear and therefore the person feels afraid due to the arousal and not directly from the car horn.

The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion states that the experience of an emotion occurs simultaneously with physiological arousal. If a large dog growled at a person the person's heart rate would increase at the same time as the person became afraid. This is different from the James-Lange theory because the increased heart rate would not cause the emotional experience.

The Shachter-Singer two factor theory of emotion states the experience of emotion arises from the cognitive appraisal or interpretation of the physiological arousal and its source. An example would be if a person heard a dog bark loudly and turned to see a large aggressive dog approaching. The person's heart rate would increase and the person would appraise the situation as dangerous and experience fear. However, if the person turned around and saw a small dog the person may still be experiencing an increased heart rate, but would appraise the situation as not being dangerous and therefore not experience fear.


Further Study

These optional resources are provided for students that wish to explore this topic more fully.

TV series "Facing Our Fears." Episode 2 from "This Emotional Life." TV series, PBS, 2010. This episode explores the role of emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, and despair have on our lives, touching on many ideas Prof. Gabrieli goes over in lecture
Website Paul Ekman's website Website of Paul Ekman, famous pioneer researcher on emotion mentioned in class
Textbook supplement Study materials for Ch. 10, "Emotion and Motivations: Feeling and Striving." In Kosslyn & Rosenberg, Psychology in Context, 3/e (Pearson, 2007) Practice test questions, flashcards, and media for a related textbook


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